(Continued from previous post)
The first thing that strikes me – the preview kind of misled me. I really expected some horrible stuff to happen, from the preview. And so I was naturally frightened of seeing the movie, since I don’t like to be disturbed by the depiction of horrifying things, and the Coen Brothers have so often in the past felt perfectly free to do so, if they take the notion.
Instead, the new version of True Grit was not that much different from the orignal. There are some changes – for example, Rooster and LaBoeuf never split up in the John Wayne version. They just sort of bantered and bitched at each other, but never split up. And certainly Maddie never said anything suggesting that she “picked the wrong man.”
Also a few really striking additions – in particular, a traveling dentist in a bear suit. This very strange character contributed very little to the story, and was in neither the original movie nor the novel. A sort of distracting scene, too – I’m not sure what it was doing there.
Of course the main difference is, the acting was incredible in the modern version. The Coen Brothers are quite comfortable with cameras and subtlety – and in fact, the scene I described yesterday in which John Wayne watches Maddie ford the river on horseback and then says, “She reminds me of me!”
Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn doesn’t say that – he just stands there thinking it and trusts us to understand.
There’s an awful lot of murder and mayhem and some gore, but I was deeply, truly terrified for the girl. She does have a considerably less happy ending – I won’t spoil it for you, but the same basic stuff happens, it just has a greater impact on her.
Also, the Coen Brothers have chosen to use a sort of Garden of Eden metaphor which may have been in the previous movie, but if it was, I didn’t catch it. In the new one, it’s hard to miss. She’s a Bible-quoting teenage girl bent on vengeance, and vengeance is a sin. It’s a forbidden fruit. There’s even a shot as she prepares to go off on her revenge killing, where she fills her pack with shiny red apples.
And her fear of serpents and snakes plays into that as well, as does the climax.
Honestly, neither movie comes close to knocking Unforgiven off of the top of my list of favorite Westerns, but I’d have to say that I like the remake a lot more than the orginal. Again, I know it might be blasphemy, but the actors in the orignal were barely acting. Sure, it was normal at the time, but a movie is far more gripping when it feels like it’s really happening.
I just couldn’t feel any empathy for really any of the characters, when they were all just stiffly barking out their lines. When you look at the John Wayne version and consider the resources they had to produce it, absolutely, it’s a fantastic film. But that’s not what I was doing – I was just watching it, and I fell asleep for part of the original.
In the theater, not even close.
Still, the two were so similar – many of the scenes felt like word-for-word replications – I have to wonder why the Coen Brothers felt so compelled to make the movie, if it wasn’t to beat up on the orignal. According to Marilyn, they still deviated sharply from the novel, even as in other ways it stuck close to it.
The book was entirely in Maddie’s voice, but in the original, they didn’t use her voice at all. There was no voiceover and also not very many Bible quotes. I suspect that since they were making a Western, they wanted to toughen it up by easing off on both the Bible quotes and the teenage girl narrator.
Similarly, they were pretty adamant back in John Wayne’s time about happy endings, so Maddie got to sort of live happily ever after. They stuck in a new scene where John Wayne’s Cogburn gets to talk to Maddie, whereas in the novel and the remake, she never sees him again.
The new version sticks like glue to the end of the novel, deviating in a few central ways for brevity and simplicity. At least I assume that’s why they deviated.
Generally, it was a really good movie, one that I’d certainly urge everyone to go and see. But you might want to lower your expectations slightly. I was expecting to be floored – like when I sat there with my jaw hanging open for five minutes after Unforgiven. True Grit didn’t strike me as that deep, and even the iconic Western hero didn’t seem very iconic.
That had to be on purpose, because the Coen Brothers know what they are doing. So maybe they wanted to move away from the iconic Western hero, and that’s fine. The problem is, that’s why I go and see Westerns.