Sunday, March 18, 2012

The True Grit debate...The Duke is still the Rooster to me.

For those who know me (and have occasion to look at my profile pic that I haven't changed in two years), I am a fan of the Mountain West.  I grew up there as a kid and still enjoy going back when I can.

(btw, for those who know me and were completely unaware that I could even sport a cowboy hat, let alone work my way around the mountains...well I do!)

But I was more than a little annoyed when the Coen brothers came out with the remake of the classic western True Grit.  The reason I was annoyed was that people were saying it was a classic, and that it was easily better than the original version (a good many of those never really having seen the original all the way through).  Well, you might as well spit in my energy drink if you are going to say that!  I am a fan of the Western...a truly American-made movie genre.  And as such, I am a huge fan of John Wayne, one of the iconic legends of American film.


My first thought was "how could an nearly exact remake be considered more of a classic that the original?"  I was intrigued, but resisted seeing the Coen version as a sort of mild protest...and because I rarely even go to a movie theater anyway.  

So on the suggestion of a friend, I decided to watch the Coen version with as much objectivity as possible.  While it was entertaining, it was in no way better than the Wayne version.  But I wanted to be fair to the people (like Roger Ebert of all people) who gushed that the new version was more true to the book.  So, I read the book.

Now, having read the book, seen both movies and considered the write-ups, I have come to this conclusion....the Coen brothers did nothing for the movie other than to make it a bit more scenic and flashy with modern technology.  

Example #1: Rooster Cogburn:  (Really this is the main reason...and this is what the movie is really all about.  True Grit...not "Mattie Ross Gets Revenge")

Ebert went on and on about Bridges' portrayal of Rooster Cogburn as a more authentic one...and complained that that John Wayne was too old to be the authentic Rooster.  But whatever Ebert was doing when he wrote the review made him forget the fact the Bridges and Wayne were almost exactly the same age when they shot their respective roles.

Bridges pretty much mumbles and snorts through the entire movie and rarely do we get much in a wide range of expression...this is NOT how the book portrayed Cogburn.  In the book, Cogburn was more of a tortured soul who longed to do good.  He felt he had tried his best, but life conspired against him to reduce him to his fate of a lonely and weary deputy U.S. Marshall.  The book Cogburn told of his wife, his child, his attempt to run a restaurant...all in a way that makes the reader pity him.  Even after the classic showdown in the meadow with Ned Pepper's gang, the book showed you he really wanted to be liked...he joined a wild west show. You really wanted to (and were compelled to) like him....even though you knew he had done some dark things in his life.

Wayne's Cogburn was truer to the book in my opinion.  He had flashes of temper, streaks of meanness, moments of comedy, and times of humanity.  Wayne was able to get all of that and manage to not mumble through the entire movie.  Wayne was under-appreciated as an actor because he did mostly Westerns.  Hollywood couldn't really respect him too much....and by the way, Wayne was a hard and fast Republican who was the star of the only movie out of Hollywood that supported the Vietnam War (The Green Berets).  So mainstream Hollywood in that time all the way through today rarely give him much credit as an actor.  But check his credentials, he has starred in critically acclaimed classic movies, despite being mostly westerns... Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Quiet Man.  He could hold his own.

Winner for me, hands down...Wayne.


There are many more reasons, but I will leave it at that for now and invite all to read the book, watch both movies and make up your own mind.

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