I dig westerns. With my particular predilection for Southern Gothic sensibilities, I like ’em dark, bleak, gritty, following an anti-hero protagonist, preferably played by Clint Eastwood. (If anyone ever makes a Southern Gothic supernatural western starring Clint Eastwood, I’m there.) Not a huge John Wayne fan. Like some of his films, but he’s not by favorite. (Still, I think it might be un-American not to enjoy The Searchers at least a little bit.) Upon hearing that the Coen’s (Joel & Ethan) would helm a remake…reboot…re-imagining (whatever you want to call it) of True Grit, I was more than excited. Eager to see a western from the brilliant team behind the amazing neo-noir/western No Country for Old Men (a contemporary classic), starring The Dude himself (Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges), Bryan and I anxiously awaited its winter release. And as we were of differing opinions about the Coen’s last film, A Serious Man–Bryan liked it, I did not–I was interested to see if we’d agree on True Grit.
BP: As much as I love the trailer for True Grit, I think it was very misleading. The film does have shoot-em ups and action, but it is much more sardonic, almost a comedy than I think you would be led to believe.
AS: I can’t even remember the trailer.
BP: Johnny Cash? Come on. I guess I pay more attention to that stuff.
AS: But, I have heard people complaining that it was advertised as more action-packed than it is.
BP: I can see that, but I’m not complaining. I thought the playful, comedic dialogue was the film’s best asset. There are many great scenes with just two people talking and you hang on every word and twisted exchange
AS: I was hardly hanging on every word. If Jeff Bridges wasn’t talking, then I was barely interested.
BP: I thought everyone had such great voices and characterization. There was such great use of the archaic old west language mixed with religious prose. Words that time has forgotten, if you will.
AS: I won’t.
BP: Well, I’m guessing you were not as impressed… what was your problem with the film?
AS: Two of my three favorite characters were barely in the film.
BP: Wait let me guess
BP: Barry Pepper
BP: …and Josh Brolin
AS: 2 for 2. And two of the leads were annoying as hell.
AS: Not them as actors or anything. I didn’t like the characters.
AS: I love Matt Damon, I just didn’t like Laboeuf. And that Mattie Ross, God damn is she annoying.
BP: I didn’t find that to be the case at all.
AS: I don’t believe that girl would have survived the old west. She would’ve annoyed some surly cowboy so much that he’d shoot her.
BP: Laboeuf is a buffoon, but heroic despite himself. Mattie comes on a little aggressive and naive, but I found them quite fascinating. Even Cogburn has his many faults, but I thought a lot of that was the point
AS: “A little aggressive…” that’s like calling the Great Wall of China a picket fence.
BP: I quite enjoyed the Mattie character. And as much as I liked Bridges as Rooster, I would have been content if the film was simply about Mattie. I’m glad it isn’t, but that’s how much I liked the early scenes, especially her haggling over the horses.
AS: Maybe it’s all the Red Dead Redemption I’ve been playing, but I’d a shot her dead with all that yapping.
BP: Well, it’s interesting. She kinda wins people over with her “never say die” attitude and then they forget that she’s still just a 14-year-old girl who needs protecting. There’s only so much she can do on her own.
AS: She never won me over. In fact, the epilogue made me like her less.
BP: Well, that was my complaint. Not so much “like her less,” but that the epilogue didn’t take in a little more sentiment or do something a little more interesting with Mattie. It isn’t horrible, but it never really delivers the small amount of emotion that I think you need there.
AS: For me, it was a fitting ending to the film, cause it was kind of a let down, like the rest of the film as a whole.
BP: Whoa… sharpening the knives now are we? Well what did you like (if anything)?
AS: I liked Jeff Bridges. I like his flawed Rooster Cogburn with his random stories and drunken musings and high plains wisdom. He was brilliant.
BP: Agreed. That court scene was tremendous and hilarious
AS: And Barry Pepper, in spite of his ridiculous chaps that looked like they were borrowed from the set of a Roy Rogers western, was a most pleasant surprise.
BP: Yeah, you wonder why he can’t get more work with how good he is here. Pretty straightforward and no-nonsense, like the Mattie character.
AS: Seriously though, those chaps made him look like Yosemite Sam.
BP: Well it was a kind of throwback western.
AS: They reminded me of the scene in Back to the Future 3, when they string up Marty.
BP: Now you’re nitpicking.
AS: It was more of a joke than a criticism. He owned those chaps.
BP: I thought all their performances were striking and Roger Deakins’ camerawork was typically amazing. That opening shot is just gorgeous.
AS: Well, he is Roger Deakins for a reason…
BP: I think the story sinks a little near the end, when it should soar, but otherwise this is a great time at the movies. Solid, old school cinema that doesn’t bore.
AS: Eh, I was a little bored at some points. Idunno, maybe the problem with being a remake of a John Wayne western is that you just end up reminding all of us who never really liked John Wayne westerns that we still don’t.
BP: I wasn’t thinking about John Wayne at all while watching this. Now, I know you didn’t care for Mattie, but can you at least agree that when she is nominated for an Oscar that it should be for Lead Actress and not Supporting?
AS: Doesn’t that mean I’d have to condone her getting an Oscar nomination in the first place?
BP: It’s gonna happen, might as well get used to the idea. Would you rather it be Nicole Kidman?
AS: Sure. I liked that character.
BP: Man, I thought I was cold.
AS: You are.
BP: I would think Rooster was harder to like than Mattie
AS: Nope. You also think that the Lord of the Rings trilogy should count as one movie… and you’re wrong about that too
BP: You do know that she’s the one that in fact has True Grit.
AS: I don’t care who has “true grit.” I’d rather be watching Unforgiven. Truly.
BP: Man, you’re the one who likes westerns more than me and here you have the archetype of western cinema and you couldn’t get into it. I guess you want more deconstructed westerns.
AS: I like dark westerns. I don’t want John Wayne, black hat/white hat westerns.
BP: Some of those are really good though. They can coexist with Leone and Eastwood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Did you at least enjoy the craft of the film? Coens are never slouches when it comes to behind the scenes.
AS: Yeah. I appreciate it. I didn’t go into it hoping it would suck. I wanted to love True Grit. And I hope it does well enough to get more westerns made.
BP: Just dark ones with no humor… for your black heart.
AS: Eastwood westerns have humor. There’s humor in Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales and High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider and so on…
BP: So defensive.
AS: I think True Grit suffers from Cousin Oliver syndrome. I’d have liked it a lot more without the addition of the kid.
BP: Then you missed the point entirely, since it’s her story from her perspective.
AS: I didn’t miss it. I just don’t like it. If I don’t empathize with the protagonist, then how am I supposed to care?
BP: I don’t know… While foolhardy, I think there’s a lot to admire about Mattie’s determination and gusto. I guess you just hate kids.
AS: I do.
BP: So, your grade my good man?
AS: It has its merits, and I’ll probably give it a second viewing, but as of now… B- Barry Pepper saved it from a C.
BP: Well, I don’t think it’s a Coen masterpiece, but I was thoroughly entertained and enthralled by many awesome performances and lively dialogue… A-
Barry Pepper saved it from a B+
AS: Haha. Too bad he couldn’t help Battlefield Earth.
BP: You really need to watch The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
AS: I’ve seen it. I have the soundtrack. I just forgot that Melissa Leo was in it. Or, didn’t know her name, rather.
BP: Okay, I believe you.
AS: I think that’s all she wrote.