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The Wicked Flee When None Pursueth. Proverb 28-1
If your looking for a western that shows real toughness and drama like no other, then look no further than "True Grit." I'll admit before seeing this film, I was a tad skeptical about it. After all, most remakes typically stink, and who could possibly replace the Duke in any movie role? Sure, I'll be the first to admit that John Wayne may not have been the most versatile actor out there, but he's still the Duke. Arguably the gold standard of western icons in movies. Therefore, why should I believe a remake of one of his films would be any better than the original? However, I've been wrong before, and such is the case with this film. Not only does the remake exceed the original in terms of story, it also has a deeper introspective into it's characters as well. Something that's not expected out of most remakes.
"True Grit" is based off the classic novel of the same name, by Charles Portis. Set in the old west, a young fourteen year old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), seeks vengeance against Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. To aid her in this quest, she hires a U.S. Marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a man infamously known for having "True Grit." Although Cogburn, at first, may not seem like anything more than a drunken fat one-eyed lawman, he's actually quite resourceful and cunning. A man who speaks his mind, and seems to be very fond of the drink. However, who is this Rooster Cogburn? Old school western hero? Strong silent type? Or perhaps something else entirely? Maybe deep down, he's just a regular guy that carries his convictions to heart, and tends to push those away that dare get close to him. Who really knows?
Having said all that, I do know one thing, Jeff Bridges plays a much better Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne ever did. No offense to John Wayne, as I've always had a lot of respect for the Duke's body of work. However, in the original version, John Wayne was still the Duke. Granted, he did do a few things out of character like shooting people in the back; something most Duke fans will say that he would never do in most of his movies. But in the end, it was still another John Wayne western. Not that there's anything wrong with it, as that was just the Duke's style of acting and personality. The Duke always had a larger than life personality on film, as it was part of his appeal.
This is where Jeff Bridges comes in. Sure, he's no Duke to quite honest, nor does he try to be. No, he simply takes the role of Rooster Cogburn, and puts his own spin on the character. Toning down the larger than life folk hero aspect that John Wayne portrayed in the original, and offering more of a grittier and realistic version that's more feasible. Jeff Bridges does an excellent job bringing his own version of Rooster to life, as he portrays him as a man that's as stubborn as he is tough. Forget the light tongue and cheek version of the original "True Grit", as Jeff Bridges performance alone sets the tone for a much darker story in the new adaptation. Displaying possibly a more realistic interpretation of how lawmen were back in those days.
However, the real strength of the movie comes from Hailee Steinfeld. Not only did she play her part with a lot of sass, she too showed why her character has true grit of her own. Don't get me wrong, I thought Kim Darby, in the original, did a pretty good job as well. However, Hailee brings even more toughness and resourcefulness to the character than Kim Darby ever did. In the original, Kim did show a lot of toughness in her performance, as she's one of the few women on film that ever told off the Duke. Yet, if you watch how they both handle the horse stable scene, it's fairly obvious who has more grit between them. No offense to Kim, but there were a few scenes in the original, where I thought her character came off as too whiny sometimes. Whereas the remake, Mattie may be a young girl, but she's highly resourceful and tough to boot.
As for the rest of the film, I thought it played a perfect homage to the original. Sure, there's a few liberties taken here and there, but I doubt anyone will notice them. The Coen brothers really surprised me though with this film. Not only did they manage to create a film that stays pretty faithful to the original, they also managed to improve on it as well. Offering much deeper character driven moments, where the audience is able to connect with the characters themselves on a personal level. Sure, there were moments like that in the original too, but it wasn't anywhere near as deep as this new one, as it offers a deeper introspective look into the heart of it's characters; particularly Mattie Ross.
Unfortunately, I would've liked it better if they had offered more closure to Matt Damon's character, but I guess you can't expect all films to be perfect.
Overall, I would have to say that this is the first remake since Peter Jackson's "King Kong", where I'm forced to say that the remake outshines the original film. Something highly uncommon in films these days, as it's usually the other way around. Don't get me wrong, I still love both versions of "True Grit" just as equally, as I'd probably give both of them a three and a half out of four. However, if I have to choose which one is better, then I'm going to have to go with the remake. Sorry Duke. I love all your movies, but Jeff Bridges plays a better Rooster Cogburn. Whether you love westerns or not, "True Grit" is a must see film that I would highly recommend to anyone that loves movies.