Saturday, July 24, 2010

True Grit (1969) - Highs & Lows

My experience with the American Western film is very limited, so my John Wayne viewing is as well.

My experience with the Coen Brother's on the other hand is the opposite. Me and the Coen's have spent a fair amount of time together.

With that in mind, I made sure to get my hands on the John Wayne classic film, True Grit (based on the Charles Portis novel with the same name).

I must say I entered my viewing of this film with some high expectations and left...with, well...a muddled feeling.

Here's some highs & lows of this 40+ year old film. (some light spoilers may be included...but's 40 years you go)

HIGH - John Wayne as Marshall Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. I don't know who else could have played this role, it's hard to imagine that this film is adapted because it seems pretty clear that the role was made for Wayne.

MIXED - John Wayne wins Oscar for role as Marshall Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. Wayne does a good job but in a way his win here seems like one of those wins we see today for "America's Sweethearts." Wayne's certainly not a sweet heart, but perhaps this nomination and film seemed like his chance to be considered an Oscar winner.

LOW - Kim Darby as Mattie Ross - Okay so she's probably the right person for this part, and she pulled it off I suppose, but either her or the character she plays is so annoying that with the exception of those couple perfectly comical lines, she's absolutely painful to watch as John Wayne's co-star.

MIXED - On Location Filming - The film's scenes and sets are quite beautiful, with diverse Colorado backdrops of snow capped mountains and Aspen trees yellowing in the fall. The only problem...the film references locations in Arkansas and Oklahoma as the setting...can't quite say the Ouray, Colorado looks like Oklahoma's Native territories.

LOW - Bad 1969 Music - Music should compliment the film, not distract from the film. I don't think it's Elmer Bernstein's fault that the score for this film seems so out of place, or even that the Oscar nominated song "True Grit" (singer Glen Campbell, lyrics Don Black) is so out of place in this Western. This song "True Grit" is honestly not that far off in sound (or awkwardness) to it's Oscar winning rival from the same year: "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Who ever thought that songs like these belonged in a Western cowboy flick?

HIGH -Duvall & Hopper as supporting players - You always enjoy watching older films when big name stars have smaller roles before they were recognized for top billing. This film has a bizarre performance by Dennis Hopper and a great Robert Duvall role that certainly make this film enjoyable as a surprise delight.

OVERALL - Glad I watched it, but watched mostly keenly interested to see how the Joel and Ethan Coen Brother's have reimagined this story. Jeff Bridges seems like a great choice for the role iconicly played by John Wayne and there are certain scenes in this film that I can easily see having that "Fargo/No Country feel." I'm weary of remakes, but can see this being a fresh reinterpretation rather than just a copy of a copy of a copy.


Walter L. Hollmann said...

I'm reading the Portis novel now, and even there, you can't help but hear John Wayne. And I still need to watch the original! The remake gives me pause for this reason, for Jeff Bridges isn't John Wayne, but John Wayne IS Rooster Cogburn.

Andrew K. said...

I kind of despise John Wayne, although that has much more to do with his personality than his talent. But I've never really been impressed by the latter either...on that note, I never did get around to seeing True Grit...