If the noontime opening day crowd for True Grit is any indication of how this film will do at the box office, I think I can safely predict a couple of things. First, seasoned citizens, like myself, who saw the 1969 original starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, and Kim Darby, will warily pay for senior-citizen discounted tickets in large numbers and then proceed to give the movie a CSI-like scrutiny searching for any hint of anti-Wayne blasphemy.
Second, I feel just as strongly that people who have not seen the Duke’s portrayal of U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, will come away from this iteration well-satisfied that they have been well and truly entertained. No one from either demographic should be disappointed with this version of Charles Portis’ 1968 serialized Saturday Evening Post of family duty, determination, and revenge.
In a recent interview, frequent John Wayne co-star, Maureen O’Hara, spoke about the 1963 movie, McLintock! One memorable scene had Ms. O’Hara running through town, being chased by Wayne, wearing only her bloomers. When, prior to shooting this scene, she asked Wayne if the bloomers could be shortened to display her dancer’s legs, he adamantly refused, stating, “We make family pictures!” And therein lies the genesis of many of the films’ differences.
There are several scenes in the 2010 Coen brothers’ version of True Grit that would never have made it past The Duke. Wayne’s Batjac Productions wouldn’t have allowed severed fingers, an outhouse interview, or snakes crawling from a desiccated corpse, to mention just a few things. But that doesn’t make one version better or the other worse, it only makes them different.
While some might say that John Wayne’s Oscar-winning performance as Rooster Cogburn could best be described as a little over-the-top (and it was), Jeff Bridges is able to provide a slightly more somber approach to this complicated, demon-driven character, while still being able to deliver an occasional light-hearted moment. It would be foolish, however, for anyone to try and compare the two actors as Mr. Bridges takes command of his role from the very beginning leaving all thoughts of a Wayne-Bridges comparison in the obscuring dust of the trail.
If any character from the ’69 version can be quickly forgotten, it was Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger LeBoef (pronounced ‘le beef’). Mr. Campbell never was much of an actor and, as a result, his character was quickly and consistently overshadowed by Wayne’s. Matt Damon, however, is no Glen Campbell and provides Bridges with a more than capable foil throughout the entire tale.
In fact, he creates a character who, in my humble opinion, deserves a film of his own someday. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld shines as a determined Mattie Ross, dead set on capturing the evil Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and bringing him to justice. That she does and does well, while trying to act as peacemaker between Cogburn and Le Boef throughout their journey.
I feel compelled to add a brief observation about Dakin Matthews who plays the role of Colonel Stonehill, originally played rather spiritedly by Strother Martin in 1969. While the badinage between Stonehill and Mattie was not quite as animated and flustered as in the original, had I not known that Mr. Martin had died in 1980, I would have sworn it was he delivering the lines rather than Matthews.
At the end of the movie, Rooster Cogburn did not rear his horse and shout, “Well, come visit an old fat man sometime!” and then proceed to leap his mount over a fence. The ending, as was the movie itself, more somber and truer to the original story. It did not, however, disappoint. It is a most enjoyable film and the story, still, in my humble opinion, has true grit.