On-Camera Movie Review: True Grit

by Eric Melin on December 24, 2010

in Video Reviews

Here’s my review of “True Grit” from KTKA-49.

In 1969, John Wayne won his only Oscar for playing an alcoholic, one-eyed fat man named Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” Jeff Bridges reprises the role in a new version of the story that isn’t a remake of the original movie, but rather a new adaptation of its source novel.

One notable difference is that writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen bring back the old-timey Biblical cadence of the West. At first, it’s hard to understand the actors, but gradually, the way they speak becomes integral to the movie’s deadpan sense of humor.

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is very good as a precocious 14-year-old who’s not to be trifled with. She looking for a man with ‘true grit,’ so she hires Rooster—and with a cocky Texas Marshal played by Matt Damon, the three set out to find the man who killed her father.

Damon is perfectly calibrated and very funny, and Bridges takes the word ‘grizzly’ to a new level, firmly putting his own stamp on the character. The scenery is gorgeous and the film is shot beautifully as well.

Even though the Coens make a conscious turn away from sentimentality as often as they can—much like their crafty lead character—“True Grit” takes on an unexpected and understated poignancy in its final sequence, and that’s when you finally realize how great it was getting to know these characters.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James C December 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Really enjoyed and perhaps even loved it. I’d like to see it again. The dialogue is so sharp, witty, and poetic delivered in a such a unique way that was hard at times to understand them, but we always knew what was overall being said. Bridges is effortless. Does he ever give a bad performance? Damon is proving to be more of a character actor than just simply a star. Steinfeld is brilliant. Honestly, her performance shows wisdom beyond her years. Love the old tradition score by Carter Burwell, and of course Roger Deakins beautiful cinematography of these landscapes and of course the costumes, art direction, and make-up are spot on. A well crafted Coen brothers flick. No surprise.

Its also surprisingly more accessible then their usual flicks. It certainly has the chaos of it all, but also seems to be believe somewhat order. At least, Mattie Ross certainly does and she is the only with True Grit through and through.

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2 JOSEPH MCNULTY January 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm

There is nothing wrong with the new “True Grit.” It is compently made and well-acted. The problem is that the entire project is WRONG-HEADED.

Why remake the original “True Grit”? The explanation is a desire to “return to the novel.” The presumption is that somehow the first movie was not true to the novel. The second explanation is a desire to return to the formal language of the novel’s dislogue. The “reasons” are BOGUS. The new movie is the same story as the first, AND 95 PERCENET OF THE DIALOGUE IS EXACTLY THE SAME. The first movie also featured the strange, formal lauguae, although it was delivered so naturally that you soon began to think of it as “normal.”

I admit that it may be hard to understand Jeff Bridges’ dislogue since he choose to deliver each line as if he had his mouth full of chewing tobacco, but whatever.

Another “reason” is to tell the story from Mattie’s viewpoint. The story has ALWAYS been told from her viewpoint. Listen to the words of the theme song. The movie had always really been about Mattie’s “True Grit,” not Rooster Cogburn’s. The first movie did lack the coda of “spinster Mattie,” a coda that is self-important and adds nothing to the story. Rooster Cogburn is dead and off-screen in it!

The original movie had Rooster visiting a convalescing Mattie, who offered him a plot in the family cemetery. She is worried that he will end up in “some neglected patch of weeds.” He reluctantly accepts, provided that he does not have to move in too soon. She remarks that, as expected, he has bought another big horse. He says, “He’s not as game a Beau, but Stonehill says he can jump a three-rail fence.” She tells him that he is too old and too fat to be jumping horses. He mounts his horse and shouts, hat in hand, “Well, come see a fat old man some time.” And then he and the horse jump the fence, demonstrating again his “True Grit” and wild humor. Now this “coda” means something in terms of the story. What does the new movie’s coda mean besides Coen Brothers pretention?

Why is this movie so well-reviewed? I can only assume that it is equal parts Coen Brothers worship and John Wayne hatred — a review of his political beliefs, rather than the movie. I prefer the first movie, not because I favor John Wayne’s political beliefs. Would you dislike the new movie if you found out Jeff Bridge was antiabortion?

I cannot think of any way the new movie is not inferior to the first. It is grey and drab (this is hailed as remarkable cinematography), lacks the humor of the rollicking John Wayne, and foregoes the beautiful vistas of Henry Hathaway’s mountin scenry and the stirring score of Elmer Bernsteim. On the other hand, I liked Barry Pepper’s chaps, the likes of which I have not seen since Tom Mix.

How can anyone think that the new “horse trading” scene matches that of the great Strother Martin? As Col. Stonehill, he is about to explode at Mattie in frustration and anger, but has to hold his tongue because she is a mere girl. It is a masterpiece of comic timing. Later, she returns and he comments, “I heard that a young girl fell down a well on the Towson Road. I thought it might be you.” Mattie misses his mordant humor.

Have you ever known a manhunt in the Old West to continue at night (when you cannot track anyone) and snow? Why does LaBoeuf (a miscast Matt Damon in the new movie) disappear and reappear? Why is Rooster wearing clothes that look more like 1930 than 1880? Why is he still using an old fashioned Civil War-era pistol (which he derides, when Mattie has one, as a “horse pistol”) 20 years after the war? Nostalgia? A misguided attempt as “period” set dressing? Wouldn’t you stick with your party in the wilderness of Indian Territory, whatever the state of your relationship with Rooster Cogburn? Perhaps these are shortcomings of the novel as well.

I like the Coen Brothers. “Raising Arizona” was an antic and surreal comedy. But “The Hudsucker Proxy” was a mess. I enjoy watching “Miller’s Crossing,” but I realize it is without significance. “Fargo” was a small masterpiece. But “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” while fun to watch, was self-consconscously arty and pretentious. So what’s the verdict? Their work varies in quality.

Here, they have tried to stay within a genre — the Western — while adding Coen Brothers touches — like the frontier doctor traveling Indian territory in a bear skin or the man strangely hanged from a tree 50 feet in the air. Who hanged him and why? We are never told — a typical Coen Brothers atmospheric touch. They tried to bring their ironic touch to a conventional Western, with mixed results. The critics — who want to seem in on the “joke” — praised it anyway.

I guess next we will have “Casablanca” remade with Leonardo DeCaprio as Rick and Anne Hathaway was Ilsa. At least it would be in color, right? We could get Usher as Sam, except he would refuse to play lthe piano because he objects to the stereotype of the “musical Negro.”

This review suffers from “presentism,” the belief that everything must be better if done by contemporaries. How aboud “Lawrence of Arabia” with Hugh Jackman?

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3 jack duhamel January 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm

truely a great movie

- Jack Duhamel

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