Ever since it became public knowledge that Paramount was redoing director Henry Hathaway’s 1969 western TRUE GRIT, purists have been up in arms.
After all, this was the film that won John Wayne his only Oscar–even though some might suggest that it was merely a career achievement award.
But if there was any filmmaker (or filmmakers) who could successfully attempt a remake of this classic western, it would be Joel and Ethan Coen.
No, but they didn’t actually remake the movie! They crafted a new film of the Charles Portis book by transferring the novel directly to the screen – lifting its period dialogue verbatim and staying TRUE to its grit.
TRUE GRIT is really a simple tale of revenge by young ‘Mattie Ross’ who sets out to hunt down the coward ‘Tom Cheney’ who killed her father in cold blood and bring him to justice.
Of course at age 14, Mattie needs help and enlists trigger-happy drunken U.S. Marshal ‘Rooster Cogburn’ to track Cheney down.
There’s one stipulation in Mattie’s hire. She insists on riding along, much to Cogburn’s chagrin.
Also on Cheney’s search is Texas Ranger ‘La Beouf’ who throws himself in with the hunting party, making for a terrific trifecta of trouble in the old West.
Let’s compare characters here with those from the 1969 movie.
Academy Award winning actor Jeff Bridges as ‘Rooster Cogburn’ takes nothing away from the Duke’s classic performance and brings his own rough and rowdy grizzle to the role.
Yet it took me a while to accept Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger originally played by Glen Campbell.
But once he and I connected, Damon clicked for the rest of this 1 hour and 50-minute long western.
That brings me to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as ‘Mattie,’ who almost steals this picture!
No doubt about it, when the Coen brothers cast her after auditioning thousands of other girls for the part, they hit pay dirt!
Hailee’s already been nominated as ‘Best Supporting Actress’ by the Screen Actors Guild and outperforms Kim Darby as ‘Mattie’ in the earlier film.
Also in the groove is Josh Brolin as bad guy ‘Tom Cheney.’
Finally, there are the Coen brothers who are known, respected and touted for their often quirky and edgy movies.
And while TRUE GRIT certainly has the Coen’s edgy directorial imprint throughout the film, it’s not as far-to-the-left and offbeat as some of their earlier movies have been.
In other words, it’s going to satisfy their hordes of passionate fans, while not turning off the average moviegoer.
All around, TRUE GRIT is this holiday season’s best picture and may just prove itself similarily in the upcoming Oscar race.
I’m highly recommending it by proudly extending 4-1/2 out of 5 rigid fingers.
JACK GOES TO THE MOVIES is Kansas City’s longest running radio movie magazine and heard Friday mornings on KMBZ / KUDL / and KXTR.