True Grit

True Grit

Postby CAP » Sat Feb 05, 2011 12:47 pm

I never saw the 1969 version, starring John Wayne (his only Oscar) so I can’t compare. But for a Coen Brothers movie, this is pretty good. Usually I find their stuff too clever and knowing by half, so much so, they usually end up shooting themselves in the foot, in terms of tone, pacing or resolution. This time, not so. The little girl, Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld was a knockout – and yes she didn’t look thirteen (after Somewhere I’m alert to these things!) Fifteen or sixteen, he says… ahem… blindly.

Anyway I can see why she was nominated for an Oscar. And if she wasn’t, she should have been. Did she win one? Beats me. Whatever, Jeff Bridges is good as the cantankerous drunken Marshal, Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn and so is Matt Damon as the errant, but gallant Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Frank?). Josh Brolin plays the bad guy, but I forget the name of his character. All are excellent, as are others I couldn’t identify, off hand.

The most notable thing for me was the dialogue which retained a marked formality, at once slightly distancing us from the characters (the story is told in flashback, or recollection as well) and yet giving them a surprising reserve and dignity given their station, somewhere in the wild west (Missouri? Arkansas?) of the 1870s. There are no apostrophising didn’ts, can’ts, don’ts, I’ves or shouldn’ts, etc to their speech. Everyone speaks as dialogue is reported in 19th century literature. Maybe they really did speak like that! Maybe it was just not done to acknowledge in the recording, in those days. In any case, I liked it, and it certainly didn’t impede the cast’s performances. Actually I’ve often thought some recent screen adaptations of Dickens and Austen fail to observe these niceties and are robbed slightly for it.

It also affords comic opportunity of course, and I suspect this was a good part of the appeal for the Coens, so that a civility of tongue is not always accompanied by similar restraint in actions – particularly from Rooster. But there is also a funny public hanging scene near the start of the movie that sets the tone in these things, as three condemned men are each given a moment for their final words.

I also liked the art direction (costumes, lighting, settings) and the directors’ understatement, their refusal to overplay comic or dramatic moments. The end of the movie which flashes forward to the rest of Mattie’s adult life, is quite sad, a surprising but moving note to what could have been just a reckless adolescent escapade.

I give it an 8.
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Re: True Grit

Postby CAP » Fri Feb 11, 2011 6:23 am

FLASH! - Apparently Hailee really was thirteen at the time of filming... DOH! :evil:
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Re: True Grit

Postby CAP » Fri Feb 18, 2011 11:32 am

Well I finally got around to watching the original version of TRUE GRIT, directed by hack Henry Hathaway in 1969. And I find the Coen Bros’ version better in every way. It’s interesting how they compress the story, pretty much picking up when Mattie Ross arrives in the frontier post to collect the corpse of her father. So we only ever have her version of how he came to be killed, although no one disputes it. Whereas in the original, there is a preamble in which Mr Ross leaves home to do some horse trading with his main hand, introduces Mattie as the zealous accountant for his business and her dislike of the main hand (I forget his name). The Coens’ version zeros in on Mattie right from the start, gains in drive for it. The actress in the Hathaway version, Kim Darby looks way older than 13, but I’m not guessing how old. Oh alright, somewhere between 15 and 17? She’s more in the cutesy, Disney tradition of child heroines, and her short, Beatle-mop hairstyle screams mid to late 60s. She’s okay, but she doesn’t really have that steely, ‘true grit’ quality that Steinfeld brings to the part.

There are other small differences to the story, in who shoots who with what and how. Incidentally, Dennis Hopper plays the young outlaw who is stabbed by his senior partner in a showdown at a remote shack. This was in 1969, around the time Hopper directed and starred in EASY RIDER. Bizarre to think of the littlest rebel still working around Hollywood then, his long hair discreetly tied back in a tiny ponytail. I wonder how Hathaway went for that. The setting or geography also looks quite different. In Hathaway’s version they seem to enter somewhere in the Rockies. Wyoming? Colorado? There are no distant snow-capped peaks in the Coen Bros’ version. I never did quite work out just where the story was set. There’s talk about Cogburn riding with the Quantrill gang, which means he was in Kansas during the Civil War, but that’s not necessarily where they are in 1880, which according to Mr Ross’s gravestone at the end of the film, is when the story is set. I suppose I’d have to read the book to straighten out these details.

The other interesting thing for me was that the somewhat stilted or literary dialogue is pretty much in place in the original. So it was probably lifted straight from the novel. But for some reason it seems more vivid in the Coen Bros’ version. Why is that? Maybe because the original also has a cheesy score by Elmer Bernstein swimming through it, and some of the edge to the dialogue is lost there.

So anyway, thanks to a killer discount at my local DVD clearing house (the thing cost slightly less than a cinema ticket) I checked out the original on DVD. Do I spend too much time in there? Yes I do. I did wonder if it wasn’t a pirate version, as it is now magically in a 16 :9 digital ratio and comes without any end credits apart from an enormous thanks to the Federal Department of Fisheries and Wildlife – presumably shot in a national park, although they don’t say where and even this is superimposed over a dodgy freeze-frame of John Wayne riding off waving with his hat. On the end of a Hathaway/Hollywood schloko film? I think not. Well you only get what you pay for, I suppose.

;)
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Re: True Grit

Postby mrharrypye » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:02 pm

In 1976 when John Wayne was on his last legs he made a film called The Shootist. I'd give that film ten out of ten. I agree the new version of True Grit is pretty damn good but somehow it doesn't quite hit the spot. Eight out of ten seems about right. I think The Cohens casted well and made some good changes etc but somehow it wasn't as satisfying a film as say, Clint Eastwood's The Unforgiven
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Re: True Grit

Postby Jim » Sat Apr 09, 2011 8:45 pm

I agree with the mrharrypye - for me, it doesn't quite hit the spot. There are great elements but it has that Coen Bros curse.... the whole never lives up to the promise of the parts. (or something) It's well worth watching, great acting, great details but it doesn't add up to a great film. Have the Coens made a great film?
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Re: True Grit

Postby Jim » Sat Apr 09, 2011 8:48 pm

has anyone seen Appaloossa ? i thought that was a pretty good recent western.
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Re: True Grit

Postby Corr » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:09 pm

I am terribly late with film thoughts, I wait for the DVD mainly.

I loved all the performances, and the 'Bear man' was a jolly distraction. It was a great film, but for some reason it didnt do it for me. I felt I was lacking any True Grit :(
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Re: True Grit

Postby CAP » Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:26 pm

I just got round to watching The Unforgiven. I can see why it comes to mind in discussing True Grit but it's way way way blacker.

Wow this must be the most nihilistic film Clint ever made :twisted:

Although that said, I thought the scarred whore could have more deeply scarred - you know, they looked a bit superficial considering the baddies were hacking at her with their bowie knives. As it is I've seen worse shaving accidents! :lol:
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