Tweaked Grit

"True Grit' gets a remake

3 minute read
Grit, all right. I gritted my teeth to sit through this send-up of the John Wayne 1969 original.

You can recall that first one— it's all over YouTube, but you've seen one Western, you get the idea. Thundering hooves across the vasty plains, good-hearted bad guys and plain bad outlaws set up against one sassy girl— er, against a young woman squished into a girlish, flatfronted dress.

No flirting allowed, not anywhere in the film. Can I call this a movie? Yes! Very '50s: absolutely no sexual innuendo, except in the viewer's mind. How can we banish those evil, dirty thoughts after what we've seen in the past 40-some years since?

Blood and bad weather abound as the mouthy, arrogant and self-important faux-child proves her own grit against a flat Rooster Cockburn (Jeff Bridges). I know this film is a send-up— Rooster wearing the eye patch on the right, not the left eye as Wayne did. In truly awful make-up. And who knew Matt Damon, the wimpy Texas Ranger, could seem so unappealing?

Of W. and Al Gore

Is there a message here, a snide comment about W? If so, I lost it amid the shootin' and gore. Gore, too much Gore—as in Al Gore. Now, maybe that's a message.

The arch, awkward, fake-Victorian language almost worked in 1969, played fairly straight. But if you were born in 1995, you'd have to ask what country, what planet spawned these people?

Critics are raving about Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie Ross as she spouts the original film's sententious dialogue. Everything sounds like it's written in quotation marks. Once it was old-fashioned, but now those starchy sentences fall like stones on mine ears and stretch my disbelief way beyond the willing suspension point. And Steinfeld plays a weird modern version of the original, fresh-faced Kim Darby.

Is it the tight head shots that force us to macro every dreadful wrinkle and gunshot wound? The lovely, better-groomed horses display great dignity, I'm glad to report. I rooted for young Mattie's pony, "Little Blackie," a plain, rough-coated fellow who proves the hero of the show after gallantly leaping into a raging river. What's not to like about this guy? At least the directors didn't kill any kitties.

John Wayne's new century

But perhaps I wax too wroth because I grew up on cowboy movies. There was nothing cynical or snide about the landscape: True Grit is shot in my favorite locale, the Wild West: sagebrush, distant bluey mountains, more sagebrush.

I know, I know, the Coen brothers are very cool. Fargo scared the pants off me, and I loved Burn After Reading. But the grand scene of Rooster riding hell-bent into battle in the original True Grit still stirs. Why make fun of it?

Maybe I'm too serious about my cowboy movies. I know John Wayne is politically incorrect. All that NRA propaganda. But that's not what he represents in this century.

Maybe I'm too old, but I just don't understand why the Coen boys spent all that money on this smirky remake. True Grit is still a good yarn. I hope someone tells it again. Better.♦

To read a response, click here.

What, When, Where

True Grit. A film written and directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. For theaters and times in Greater Philadelphia, click here.

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