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Genre: Western, Classic
Country: United States
Starring: John Wayne, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Jay Silverheels
Director: Henry Hathaway
Run time: 128 minutes
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
True Grit was a competent western. In fact, it was a pretty good western. But I must say right off the top that I just don’t think it deserves the acclaim it has received over the years. Oh, it’s a classic for a reason – there are some good scenes, Rooster Cogburn is one of cinema’s most memorable characters, there are some interesting appearances by a young Robert Duvall and a young Dennis Hopper, “fill your hands, you son of a bitch” is one of the most classic John Wayne lines, and of course this was the movie for which the Duke received his one and only Oscar.
That being said, the Oscar bestowed upon Wayne here was more of a lifetime achievement award than an actual recognition of his work in this film. While Cogburn is certainly memorable, he’s not a big stretch for Wayne, who was an easy and natural fit for the role. Even he seemed a little bemused by his Academy Award, and joked that after a long career with hundreds of films, he had to play a “one-eyed fat man” to finally win.
I would agree with the Duke there. Off the top of my head, I can think of dozens of better performances. Red River, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quiet Man, the list goes on and on. And of course, there is the definitive John Wayne movie, maybe the greatest western ever made and (I certainly think) the Duke’s greatest performance, The Searchers. Any of those movies could have earned him an Oscar, and it would have been well deserved.
But back to True Grit. Wayne is solid, the movie is good, and the supporting cast is surprising. With one major exception – Kim Darby, as 14-year-old Mattie Ross, is the most irritating child character in a movie this side of Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 or that long-haired kid in Dazed And Confused. She hires Rooster Cogburn to track down the man who killed her father, choosing him for his “true grit”. Never mind that he’s a sloppy, disgusting, unreliable alcoholic, he has balls and guts and toughness, and that’s what little Mattie wants. And she’ll guide this buffoon along the trail until the time comes for gunfighting, at which point she’ll just stand aside. Cool?
A few little things could have made True Grit better. A less obnoxious heroine (since Mattie is in the movie as much as Rooster, her annoying persona almost entirely cancels out his compelling persona). A more interesting bad guy. More focus on who the bad guy really is. You know, little things. And that’s why I’m excited for the remake.
Obviously, Paramount Home Entertainment is releasing True Grit on Blu-Ray now, December 14th, to help promote their upcoming remake by the Coen Brothers. (I have no problem with that – I’m excited for the remake too, and I included the new trailer up above.) The Coen Brothers are, of course, the best film makers working today. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are three of the best actors in the world. I have high, high hopes for the new film. But the idea of a remake here works only because there is a ton of room for improvement over the original.
Of course, I think you should watch the original movie as well. It’s on the shelves now, in Blu-Ray form, and the HD is a solid upgrade. The best thing about the disc is the special features, which include a feature-length commentary and a quick doc about working with John Wayne. It’s hard to watch this film again without getting overly enthusiastic about the big theatrical release coming up.