January 02, 2011
Although I like the way Joel and Ethan Coen try to circumvent the scandal of standing toe to toe with John Wayne’s ghost (might as well be Jesus) by emphasizing that their True Grit isn’t a remake but a literary adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, I’d like to take a crack at measuring the Coens’ 2010 effort against the 1969 True Grit anyway.
Here’s the big difference.The most riveting character in the 1969 version is John Wayne while the most riveting character in the 2010 version is Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges).The Dude is a better actor than The Duke.There.I said it.
Even my dad, a Western aficionado who can tell you how many films Harry Carey Jr. made and who did stunt work for Gene Autry, had to admit this as we left the cinema.His initial reaction to news of a True Grit reboot had been, “No way anyone could pull that off.”Call him a convert.
While I’d half-expected the new True Grit to infuse the tale of fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who hires Cogburn to hunt down the man who killed her father, with their No Country for Old Men level of darkness, the Coens give the Portis novel a straightforward, cinematically traditional treatment.Theirs is painstakingly accurate in ways the first one was not, as my dad tells me. He’d read the novel when it was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, and it remains one of his favorites.What did I tell you?Ask him anything.John Wayne’s boot size.Who wrote the score for The Alamo.Anything.
When I was little, True Grit was my Western introduction via compromise.If I had to watch one, make it one I could identify with.Make it one with a little girl calling the shots.So now I have a soft spot for the genre overall (mission accomplished, dad!).And while I love the outcome of a Coen brother adaptation in keeping with the tenor of its novel, I also love the following contemporary Westerns that manage to be about three shades bleaker and decidedly edgy.
Christian Bale amputated his right leg in preparation for the role of a struggling rancher with a prosthetic limb in this one.Or maybe he just grew a beard and lost a little weight.Whatever he did resulted in a performance that reminded me this guy can play it subtle when he wants to.It’s one of the many things that keep me coming back to this film along with Peter Fonda’s crusty old Pinkerton, a spaghetti western-worthy score by Marco Beltrami, a dapper Russell Crowe and his rabble of miscreants, and explosions (in a Western!).Even though it would have been better served by something resembling the original ending of the Elmore Leonard short story it was based on, it’s a keeper in my DVD collection.
Since making his mark in films like L. A. Confidential and Memento, Guy Pearce has become one of the most poorly used actors in recent memory.I mean, two-minute bit parts in The Road, The Hurt Locker, and The King’s Speech?Come on.Pearce deserves more screen-time and meatier roles, and his tortured, understated Charlie Burns of The Proposition is the proof. Also stellar: Emily Watson, Ray Winstone, and Danny Huston. Brutal acts punctuating the long, eerily quiet shots of the equally brutal landscape in Nick Cave’s screenplay (who also provides the musical score) make The Proposition one hell of a journey (emphasis on “hell”).
Another film scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.Watching the opening scene, which lifts narration straight from the gorgeously written Ron Hansen book of the same name, over and over again is a little pre-writing habit of mine. As is listening to the soundtrack.As is re-reading segments of the book itself.I love this one from every angle, in other words, but mostly I love the subtle complexities of the titular characters and that director Andrew Dominik takes his sweet time unpacking each scene in ways that remind me of, dare I say it, a Terrence Malick work.