It seems like the thing to do in Hollywood these days is to remake a classic movie. I have to tell you I was personally horrified when I heard they were making a remake of True Grit (1969). In my mind Rooster Cogburn was John Wayne or rather John Wayne was Rooster Cogburn. No one but John Wayne could get that one-eyed fat man correct with his mixture of sad drunkenness, crude honesty, and fierce sense of justice and loyalty. To touch “True Grit” is like trying to rewrite my childhood. Every Saturday afternoon spent watching John Wayne with my Dad flashed in my mind. I did not want these memories, which I cherish, to be tarnished.
However, my husband is a strong supporter of Westerns. And if we want to see more Westerns made for the big screen we must support this genre by going to the theater. Today was the day. We braved the crowds and made our way to see if the Coen brothers, who directed the newest version of True Grit (2010), would break my heart.
First, I must thank Ethan and Joel Coen and all the producers of this new movie. They not only hit the mark; they made a perfect bullseye! Although no one will ever replace John Wayne in my heart, Jeff Bridges deserves an Oscar. Bridges made me forget that I had previously met Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn. I was meeting Rooster for the first time and he was as complex and frustrating as he was meant to be. I also believe this film has one of Matt Damon’s best performances (and I don’t usually sing his praises but he honestly deserved it for this movie). Josh Brolin, while brief on screen, was amazing. I also believe that Hailee Steinfeld may have stolen the show; she totally blew away Kim Darby’s version of Mattie Ross in the 1969 movie. Both Darby and Steinfeld’s performances are excellent, however, I feel that Steinfeld was allowed to play the role tougher where as Darby still had to give in to some female stereotypes of the 60’s.
My husband has read the novel that started it all – True Grit by Charles Portis – and he told me that the 2010 movie stays truer to the novel than the 1969 film version. But again, I believe that there were some accommodations made in the 60’s because they just didn’t want to portray a 14-year old girl in a certain light. I think the audience in 1969 would have accepted the novel version but then we might not have been given these wonderful performances today. I’ve already gone out to my public library and reserved the book so that I can compare the movies and book myself.
So many remakes leave me disgusted that I cringe when I hear about a the release of another classic “with a new spin.” Normally I would say that remakes really add no new value to the original story. But in the case of True Grit (2010), I have to say that it is definitely worth a movie-goers time. As an aspiring author, I found it was the slight changes to the storyline that interested me instead of proving false red-herrings. I’d bet overall if one were to compare both versions’ script dialog word-for-word, they would be surprisingly similar. And yet, while both films provide the drunken Rooster with his moment of redemption these are completely different stories of the same man.
The Coen brothers – in their genius – have been able to use some of America’s most legendary heroes – John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, and now Jeff Bridges – to show us that there are always multiple layers to everyone. Every character. Every story. In the movies and in life, we need to remember to take a second look at those around us to learn more. Because there is always more just under the surface that we didn’t have time, talent, etc. to see the first time.
Yes, a good remake is worthwhile. It is even worth suffering all the bad remakes.