Monday, July 11, 2011

REVIEW: True Grit

Both of 'em, that is. And pardon if this review isn't as well-organized as would be nice... I'm busy right now- praise God!- and am really just trying to hack through this to get it out there, as I know some have been looking for it.

I'll get it out there right now. I liked Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Rooster Cogburn better than John Wayne's.

Whew. Glad I got that one off my chest.

This is another one of them thar compare-contrast reviews. I'ma gonna tell ya which one o' these here two pictures (that would be films fer you east-coasters) I liked better, and why I liked (or didn't so much like) either one 'tall.

The Characters

Mattie Ross

The headstrong hero of the film, Mattie is set on avenging her father's death.

Boy does this one give me a lot to ponder in the worldview section, but for now I'm comparing.

I definitely liked Miss Ross the newer, excellently acted by Hailee Steinfeld, over her predecessor.

I have to wonder why they went with the short hair in the old one.

The thing that worries me most about the film- not because I'm downright against it but because I'm not sure whether I'm downright against it- is the fact that Mattie Ross is out for vengeance against the murderer of her father. In the new film she tells her mother that that's what her now deceased father would have wanted. I really appreciated that line. She's trying to honor her father. She also tries to get the law to do its job- she hires a marshal. She's not just out to kill- she's out to see that justice is served. And if the law won't do it, she appears to want to do something reminiscent of the role of the Biblical "avenger of blood". It also appears that if she had had a brother old enough to do it then she would have gladly yielded that role to him. She's not a man, nor does she want to be, and that's a good thing.

She's not exactly principled in some of her dealings with the townspeople as the film starts out- I mean, come on, your father did buy the horses, and just because you have a good lawyer doesn't mean that you should threaten $300 out of someone that doesn't owe you $300. Excuse me, that would be $320.

La Boeuf ("La Beef")

On this character I much prefer Matt Damon's version. Of course, I came into the film already a fan of his acting, so it's no surprise that that would be my conclusion.

He too is a flawed character, but his flaws are pretty obviously flaws. I really enjoyed watching Jason Bourne play somebody with a heart and some quirks.

"Rooster" Cogburn

Now for Mr. Cogburn. He's a drunkard, but this is portrayed as a weakness, if a point for some humor throughout. He's not a moral man- in the new one, he's twice divorced- his language is occasionally colorful and his methods aren't compassionate. "The love of decency does not abide in you," he quotes his former wife. In both films, he definitely has flaws which make him an interesting character. The one that worries me most is the Jack Bauer syndrome- while this probably is rather accurate in a Western story, he has no qualms about using threats, shooting first, or breaking promises to dead men. We have to be careful- just because they have the badge and are the "good guys" doesn't mean that they are above the law.

The Art

The Coen Bros. film was very well done. There were a few parts where I thought the score failed to deliver- it lacked a bit of punch at a few parts that really needed punch. That said, I liked the score overall. The cinematography was very good, though I was hoping for a few more "big sky" shots.

It's a very enjoyable film. The mix of humor and story is very pleasant, and the acting is first class.

The ending music, a rather unattractive rendition of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," was a bit disappointing. Love the use of hymnody in the score, but I could have done with a better version of the ending song perhaps...

There's a few parts in the film of very graphic violence which might cause concern, as well as a smattering of cursing- I think the cursing was worse in the old one, but the violence was most definitely more graphic in the new.

Is graphic violence bad? I don't think so inherently, but in case it bugs you behold- you have been warned. :-)

For more detail on non-family-friendly content I'd refer you to the Kids-In-Mind review here.

The John Wayne version is older. It lacks the polish of... newer films. So for a film of its time I think it was very good, but as far as the art goes I like the new one a deal better.

The Worldview

This is a tough one. Right off the bat I'll mention that the newer version of the film had a much stronger flavor of Christianity- from the opening slide with Proverb 28:1 ("The wicked flee when no one is pursuing...") to the hymns woven into the score to Miss Ross' references to Scripture and the free Grace of God.

And this I like.

But anybody can stick a Scripture or two in their film.

Something that I really enjoyed in the John Wayne version that I missed in the newer True Grit was the way that Mr. Cogburn repeatedly referred to Mattie as "Little Sister." While this phrase and variations thereon came up a few times in the new version, I really enjoyed the protective and familial relationship between Wayne's Cogburn and Darby's Ross.

The ending I liked better in the John Wayne version. In the Coen Bros.' film, we actually see Mattie grown up. She says she never had time to "fool around" with marriage, seems a bit bitter, and is overall a disappointing end to a character that I had really become attached to throughout the course of the film.

Some of the other worldview issues I already addressed when speaking of the characters.

Oh, one more- in the 2010 film Mattie *SPOILER* shoots an unarmed Cheney. Now, Cheney was worthy of death Biblically, and who knows how many variables would be going through Miss Ross' mind, but I don't know right off if she was right to do so, instead of turning him over to the magistrates.

I enjoyed the newer version a good deal better, and would recommend it over the version with Mr. Wayne.

True Grit (2010) - 4/5
True Grit (1969) - 3/5


Glandias the Fox said...

Which score did you like better? Elmer Berstein's or Carter Burwell's?

Jamie T said...

Good reviews, Gabe. I agree, I don't really like John Wayne's True Grit either---not sure I'd watch it again even. Now, if we were talking about the sequel: that's a different story for me! :P

Not sure I would want to see the new one either, though; but I'm rather biased too . . . I enjoy John Wayne's films quite a bit (not to count Kayla and I both have cups with him on them and we have a large picture of him hanging in our bedroom.) So, I'm rather undecided.

~Jamie Joyce

Glandias the Fox said...

Bernstein -

Burwell -

Hehe, to me no comparison. Elmer Bernstein hands down!

Rebekah said...

I was looking forward to this one! A good review! It sounds like the new one might be worth watching. I think Daddy and Mom are planning to preview it. :)

An idea about the short hair on Mattie Ross - I've seen that same actress in a few other things, and while when she was very, very young, she had hair to her shoulders, the short hair style seemed to be the style of the actress. The Director might not have cared what her hair looked like. (Kind of like Maria's hair in "The Sound of Music". That's Julie Andrew's hairstyle, not done specifically for the film - or so I've been told. :) Just a thought.

To the KING be all the glory!

Stacey said...

I very much enjoyed the review, Gabe! Good job writing it! I hope I'll get a chance to see the new movie soon. I'm glad I'll go into it with a better idea of what to expect in some areas after reading this.

Jennifer said...

I definitely prefer Mattie in the new one, I can't believe her masculine hair in the old; ugh. "Unforgiven" is also a great movie about justice and similar issues, though far more graphic.

BushMaid said...

Good review. :D I've seen the 2010 movie, and I probably wouldn't recommend it very highly. It had some terrific one liners, but it's the only thing I take away from it.

I agree with your paragraph on it having a disappointing ending for Mattie after having grown attached to her character in the movie. I would have liked to see her happy; not living out her remaining years alone and bitter.

I couldn't watch some of the violence; I had to cover my eyes in a few places, but I think it was realistic for the times. Overall, I feel the movie would have been much more enjoyable if it had a more pleasant ending.

Lisa said...

I really liked your review, Gabe. I actually have never seen the new movie, but the old one has been a favorite for a while. We just recently watched the old one again after not seeing it for many years, and it was interesting to watch it through more, um, critical eyes. The biggest things I have against the old one are
1. Mattie's "feministic" character...but, we did have the conversation of, "she was trying to honor her dad, and she was trying to do right."
2. The language. Yuck! Glad to hear the new one is better.

Parts I loved were the father/daughter relationship that develops between Mattie and Cogburn, and, of course, John Wayne's sense of humor. I totally agree that the "good" guy isn't always good. Something to be very careful of, especially in westerns...especially in Wayne's films. Wayne often portrays a "hero" type of cowboy who really isn't such a hero.

I would love to see the new one at some point, and then I will come re-read this review :)

Corey P. said...

Loved the Coen Bros. adaption, and was privileged to see it in theaters. Great story, great acting, and lots to think about. My only real issue with the film was the fact that it was only rated PG-13. The violence seemed to me to warrant an R.

Suzannah said...

I watched the newer "True Grit" recently, having read the book by Charles Portis first. I haven't had the time to analyse the worldview of the book or the movie really deeply, but I think the book might help you flesh out some of your analysis of the movies. For instance (I may be wrong) I got the impression from the book that Mattie was not so much bent on revenge as she was on bringing the murderer to justice. But her motives, I think, were not unmixed.

The strong Calvinist content in the book did somewhat come through in the movie. It would have been delightful, if not for the sourness that pervades both the book and the movie. I know nothing of the author's attitude to Christianity or Calvinism but that sourness does detract from the generally favourable way he depicts it.

The film I saw was a pretty faithful version of the book, I feel. If there was one difference I would bring to your attention, it was that the "epilogue" with the older Mattie in the movie seemed a bit bleaker by comparison with the book.

I'm enjoying your old reviews ;)