“TRUE GRIT” (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon & Hallie Steinfeld)
Remaking ‘True Grit’ wasn’t a bad idea in my mind – it would be nice to see what actors that could actually ‘act’ could do with those roles – but when I saw the trailer for the Coen Brothers ‘take’ on the horribly acted 1969 western, I was unimpressed. Most of the scenes in the preview were the same as the ‘69 version – virtually word-for-word.
Still, I was assured that this would be ‘better’ than the original because the Coen’s were going to stick closer to the novel from which it came.
When the film ended, my wife said, “I don’t remember if I've ever seen the original...” And I said, “You just did.”
The trailer wasn’t misleading – this is the same story, same dialogue – Yes, the only improvement is the acting is better – but not THAT much better. With the notable exception of Bridges over John Wayne – but we all knew that was going to be significant.
What I discovered however is that I had been misguided in my harsh criticism of Glen Campbell’s performance as LeBoeuf, the Texas Ranger. In the early scenes, Matt Damon seemed just as uncomfortable as Campbell and I realized, it wasn’t just bad acting on Glen’s part - it was bad acting combined with bad dialogue. Now, something different happens to LeBoeuf mid-way thru the re-make and Damon up’s his performance in the second half of the film – but the problem with this entire project is poorly written dialogue and an unrealistic main character with 14 year old Mattie Ross (played this time by an actual 14 year old, Hallie Steinfeld)
It would be stretching it to say that a 21st century 14 year old girl could speak as eloquently and with such a wide breath of knowledge as Mattie (she knows Latin too!)
but this story is set in the 19th century which makes the character implausible. Yes, it’s cute and clever when Mattie talks over the heads of every adult she encounters but it isn’t realistic. Her droning way of speaking doesn’t lend itself to a child either. I kept wondering, ‘Are all of the children in Yell County this uber-intelligent?’
The only part that worked for me and that would make me say it’s worth seeing is Bridges’ take on Rooster Cogburn – though the character wasn’t too far removed from The Big Lebowski’s ‘Dude’ – Jeff is still fun to watch as the drunken one-eyed U.S. Marshall whose theory is ‘bringin’ ‘em in dead is much easier than bringin’ ‘em back alive’.
Josh Brolin as the ‘coward’ Tom Cheney and Barry Pepper as ‘lucky’ Ned Pepper pretty much say & do the exact same things that the original characters said & did, so why even mention them?
One thing that struck me as odd – In the original there’s a scene where one bad guy chops off the fingers of another bad guy (Moon & Quincy, but don’t ask me which was which) I remember the scene being very graphic as they showed the blade slicing off the fingers. In the re-make, 40 years later, how sad is it that they had to cut away from the ‘gory’ part of the scene in order to maintain a PG-13 rating.
This is another thing that made me leery of this version – If they were really going to tell the true gritty story using Jeff Bridges as the drunken disagreeable Marshall, shouldn’t it have an ‘R’ rating so Cogburn could let the curse words flow? Even though Bridges is entertaining in the second coming of Rooster, I felt it would have been more so if they had allowed him to be more ‘realistic’. I seem to be finding a lot of films that irritate me by not being ‘real’. Some would argue that you go to films to lose yourself in the make believe worlds of celluloid heroes, so I guess that I just go against the grain because I’m not sheep-ish. If you’re going to tell a story about real people living in the real world, then by Gawd you’d better make them believable, dammit!
Famed bad director Alan Smithee had a problem with Rooster’s treatment of Little Blackie at the end of the film – it wasn’t logical for the Marshall not to realize by doing what he did, he’d end up carrying the girl for several miles and she was more likely to die that way. But I’d argue that it made some sense because of how the horse swam across a river with the girl in tow – Blackie, like Cogburn was going to do whatever it took to get the girl to safety. Because of that, it isn’t a bad story – sure, I got emotional watching the tough as nails Marshall doing whatever it took to save ‘sister’ (as he called Mattie, completely dissing John Wayne’s Cogburn who called her ‘little sister’) but then the Coen’s added an epilogue that didn’t make any sense at all and as Mr. Smithee pointed out the ‘25 years later’ span they added meant that Matt Damon’s LeBoeouf was in his mid-to-late 40’s at the time of the ‘trek’ to bring in Tom Cheney. I didn’t mind there being an epilogue, in fact, I welcomed it as something ‘fresh’ but it was so poorly thought out it became a stupid addendum.
One of the biggest jokes in Oscar history came when they gave John Wayne the Best Actor award for ‘True Grit’. Since Jeff Bridges played the role a thousand times better than Wayne, he should be a sure thing to win back-to-back Oscars, right?