The end of the year has truly bombarded avid filmgoers with a bevy of Oscar-caliber films. This has come as quite a treat considering the first 75% of the year wasn't exactly worth writing home about. I had almost forgotten that I'd dubbed 2010 as the year of disappointments; that is, until I saw TRUE GRIT.
Being a huge fan of the 1969 film, the Coens, Jeff Bridges and composer Carter Burwell, I expected this film to be a slam dunk. In hindsight, I know my initial expectations were flawed. There was never any substitute for Wayne's Rooster Cogburn, not even someone as talented as Bridges. And without a good Rooster, the film doesn't have a solid foundation. A loophole around this would have been for the Coens to make something distinct from the original film in which comparisons to The Duke might not have been so relevant, but the end product of this remake was just that. No one can call this a reimagining, it's a straight, almost scene-for-scene remake of the Henry Hathaway original. Reports preceding the film and its present defenders claim that the Coens drew more inspiration from the Portis novel than the preceding film, but I don't buy that. The film offers us little new in the way of interpretation or content.
As I alluded to before, remaking TRUE GRIT in such a manner would not have been a problem if it weren't for Bridges performance. His version of the character is the only thing that differs greatly from the original. Bridges' Cogburn is mumbling and soft; his approachability and crazy-grandpa appeal kills a lot of the film's drama and stifles the full potential of his and Maddie's relationship. Hailee Steinfeld mimics the inflection of Kim Darby very closely, Matt Damon shows shades of Glen Campbell's smug confidence and Barry Pepper eerily recalls the work of a young Robert Duvall; Bridges is the only thing that's off.
I'm not saying the film is all bad or anything even close to that. TRUE GRIT is okay. There are some stunning visuals and some very good performances, even Josh Brolin puts on a good showing in his limited screen time. Burwell's score is impressive and unfortunately has been dropped from Oscar contention due to being derived from 19th century hymns and therefore deemed insufficiently original. It's just that so much about what makes TRUE GRIT True Grit is John Wayne. That film is so much about the hard persona he cultivated in his illustrious career. His tenderness and vulnerability as Rooster Cogburn is made that much more potent when considering the type of man Wayne was and the characters he often portrayed. His frantic ride to save Maddie Ross holds so much more weight and power than does Bridges'. Portis wrote a classic novel, I appreciate that, but it never would have been adapted in 2010 if it weren't for John Wayne putting on an acting clinic in the original film.
So, in summation: TRUE GRIT is too close to the original to have a vastly different Cogburn. Such a thing might have worked if this film had strayed further from its predecessor, but that's not the road the Coens took.
B- (Not a bad grade despite my rant above, but certainly worse than I had hoped for)