Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper and Domhnall Gleeson.
When her father is murdered by a farm hand, a young girl hires a retired U.S. Marshal to track down the killer and the duo are soon joined in the hunt by a Texas Ranger.
Why would you want to remake a classic? Despite technological advancements taking giant cinematic leaps since the 60’s and 70’s not all classics look better once subjected to high definition and a multi-million dollar budget. The original is a classic Western that saw John Wayne earn his one and only Oscar as US Marshall Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn in Henry Hathaway’s retelling of the 1968 Charles Portis novel. Can the Coen Brothers remake a classic and make it work?
True Grit is the story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross’ (Hailee Steinfeld) search for the man who killed her father in cold blood, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She hires a man to find Chaney who she believes has true grit, US Marshall Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). The drunken and violent lawman reluctantly takes on the job and teams up with Texas Ranger Le Boeuf (Matt Damon) who is looking for Chaney in connection with another crime. The two of them set off together with the intention of returning Chaney to Texas to collect a reward bigger than that offered by Mattie, however they didn’t anticipate her tagging along. The unlikely trio make their way across the Indian Territory in search of Chaney and a gang of crooks he has joined up with on his travels. As they camp out, follow trails and battle the other crooks hiding out in the territory their personalities clash morally on a range of subjects, but they eventually manage to work together in order to get their man.
The contemporary retelling of True Grit looks stunning and Roger Deakons has rightfully won a BAFTA for Best Cinematography. The film is beautiful at times with some great vista shots accompanying the usual intelligent direction that is a staple part of every Coen Brothers film. Deakons blends classic Western style with a touch of contemporary trickery and style to achieve a slick looking film throughout. The clarity, colour and definition that has come with technological advancement means that the film has been taken up several notches from the original and is a clear step forward. 1 – 0 to the contemporary adaptation, but is it enough to just look better than a late 60’s classic?
The Coen Brothers also do a superb job of remaining true to the story that worked so well in the original, whilst adding a touch of originality. It feels authentic of the time and true to the genre also, even though this means it feels a little dated at times, and would sit perfectly in a collection of classic Westerns. However, typical to a Coen Brothers film the scenes are stretched a little further and the dialogue allowed flowing more expansively. A technique the brothers have used time and time again that allows the characters to come alive, even when at times they seem to talk incoherently or off subject.
Another tried and tested Coen Brothers technique that is very evident in True Grit is their dry wit and humour. As well as being a drunk, and at one point falling off his horse, Cogburn is genuinely funny and offers several laugh-out-loud moments through his dry comments and reactions to those around him. Some of the conversation between Cogburn, Mattie and Le Boeuf are full of the dry humour, awkward moments and confused facial expressions that are so often the point of comedy in a Coen Brothers production. They seem to find humour in any moment whether it suspenseful, sad or touching without taking anything away from the moment.
The performances in this outing are just as strong if not stronger than the original. John Wayne did win an Oscar for his portrayal of Cogburn, but Jeff Bridges himself is fresh from Oscar success and puts in a very fine performance. Matt Damon’s Le Boeuf is a much more subdued character than that of Glen Campbell’s’, but it works better with Cogburn and Mattie being such big personalities. Hailee Steinfeld’s first experience of feature filmmaking is a brilliant performance as attie and whilst remaining a strong character with a fast mouth and a stubborn opinion she is nowhere near as annoying or hammy as that of Kim Darby. Thankfully.
Although the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, like the original, is a little slow to get going and can be hammy at times it does feel like they have taken a tried and tested story covered in dust, given it a good HD polish and a little sprinkle of dry wit to make it shine brighter than it had previously. Defo worth a watch and another great addition to the very impressive curriculum vitae of the Brothers Coen.
True Grit (1969)
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