Remaking a movie is somewhat like giving your youngster a swift smack on the behind. Firstly, it has to be done for a reason, and not merely because you feel the urge. Also, it’s gotta be a good one, that way child/filmmaker need not do it again (Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby deserved more of a belting, in other words). Thirdly, those that cop it must be made aware why it’s been done.
After they catch Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit, which though itself is based on a book by Charles Portis is possibly more well-known as a John Wayne starring film, Hollywood will likely not do it again. This, the second film adaptation of the Rooster Cogburn origin tale, undoubtedly leaves a mark.
This – excuse the pun – grittier take on the novel has enough in it to please fans of the literary source, but mainly the John Wayne movie, with everything from the eye patch to the key beats ported over. At the same time, and not unexpectedly, the Coen brothers (returning to western terrain after the acclaimed No Country for Old Men) bring their own unique style and slant to Portis’ tale, resulting in a film that’s story plays familiar but still enriches, thrills and captivates.
But the key to the remake mightn’t so much be the Coen’s as it is Jeff Bridges. Riding atop a walloping big career boost of a wave, Bridges offers up a performance that – aside from being a total 180 from his Kevin Flynn in the recent TRON Legacy – stays with the viewer for days. As good as Wayne was as Rooster Cogburn (in fact, it was Wayne’s best performance), Bridges is as equally commanding – but in a different way. Wayne’s turn was somewhat more comedic, almost a lampoon, but Bridges’ Marshall Cogburn is a complicated, likeable but mysterious papa of the old west. Even without the Coen’s and the new touches they bring to the movie, any True Grit remake starring Jeff Bridges in the title role was going to be worth seeing. Bonus points for bringing the Coen’s along for the ride.
For those who haven’t seen the original film or read the book (pretty sure you’ve experienced one or the other), the yarn goes a little like this : a thrifty teenager, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires grizzled, grog-loving Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to help track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man responsible for her father’s murder. Joining Cogburn and young Ross on their expedition is a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants to capture Chaney and bring him back to Texas for the murder of another man.
I’ve seen the original 1969 film a couple of times and recall it – besides the ‘horse’ scene near the end; not to mention changing Cogburn’s fate – playing fairly similar to this. Though, as I said, the Coen’s, while keeping a lot of the humour present in the first film, doused it in a lot more darkness.
I’m as anti-remake as the rest of you, but when they’re done right and the filmmakers have waited sometime before attempting to do-over something (plenty of time has passed between the original and the remake here), I’m all for it. Guys like Scorsese, with his bravura Infernal Affairs remake The Departed, and Gore Verbinski, with his Ringu redo, seem to understand what’s involved in remaking an earlier movie. While other filmmakers may consider it a lazy, quick grab-for-cash, a minute few understand that remaking a loved classic is much harder than doing something original.
With Roger Deakins stunning cinematography, the strong support of Damon, Brolin, and newcomer Steinfeld, and one of the most legendary characters of all time leading the charge, the Coen’s True Grit sets the remake bar high. You might as well wave ya surrender flag already Total Recall .