Sunday, May 26, 2013

Truer Grit

I was kind of hoping to hear Matt Damon sing the theme song for the new True Grit, as Glen Campbell did in the 1969 film version of the Charles Portis novel. After all, Damon plays Le Beuf, the Texas Ranger role in which the country crooner who took “Witchita Lineman” to the top of the charts made his film debut.

The new True Grit doesn’t have a theme song, but it has Hailee Steinfeld, a pig-tailed cutie, as Mattie Ross, the girl who hires Marshal Rooster Cogburn to hunt down the man who killed her father. Cogburn, the role that won an Oscar for John Wayne, is now played by Jeff Bridges who wears an eye patch over his right eye (Wayne favored his left) and speaks in such a grizzled tone that I was reminded of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. Bridges is more slovenly than the Duke, but he has less to live up to. A fine actor, and, like Wayne, an Oscar winning one, Bridges is not a larger than life icon.

I can’t say I remember too much about Glen Campbell in the original, except when he gave Kim Darby’s Mattie Ross a spanking, a scene that Damon and Steinfeld reenact, but I’m sure he was more clean-cut than Damon who’s impeccably groomed compared to Cogburn, but looks like what he’s supposed to be: a guy who doesn’t bathe too often.

The first True Grit was produced by Hal Wallis, whose credits included everything from Casablanca to most of the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedies and all those tropical island movies that Elvis made. It was directed by Henry Hathaway, generally regarded as a “studio director,” a patronizing label suggesting he was a competent craftsman but not an artist as Joel and Ethan Coen, the directors of the updated True Grit, are considered to be. Frankly, I’ll take Hathaway’s work, which includes Kiss of Death and 23 Paces to Baker Street, over the Coen brothers’ oeuvre any day, but their take on True Grit is more straight-forward than their previous films, and their True Grit is a very enjoyable ride. It’s nicely atmospheric and dark in tone.

Brian W. Fairbanks
December 27, 2010

© 2010 Brian W. Fairbanks


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