I think the first question most people will ask when you mention that you've just seen a particular movie is "How was it?" When I got that question after seeing the Coen brothers' new version of True Grit, the best I could manage was a noncommittal "Uh, yeah, it was good."
Now, you'd think that being a fan of the Coens, Jeff Bridges, and Westerns, this movie would be the type to immediately garner lavish praise from me. The problem, though, is that I'm also a giant fan of the 1969 John Wayne version of the film, so both before and after I found myself with a deep ambivalence about the very existence of a remake.
Remakes, in general, are always problematic for me. It's the kind of thing critics and movie buffs have been bemoaning for years, the bottom-line orientation of the modern studios having lead to a glut of remakes and sequels and a dearth of new, creative work. The Coens, of course, tried to head off such criticism by claiming that their film was a new adaptation of the original 1968 novel rather than a remake of the Wayne film, but that always struck me as splitting hairs.
Unlike most remakes, though, the Coens' True Grit is neither shallow nor technically incompetent--quite the opposite, in fact. What's more, I have to say that it does, indeed, bring something new to the story. The 1969 film is a classic, an iconic movie that cannot be replaced. The new one may not be either, but I don't think the comparison really does right by either movie, and having had some time to think it over, I've decided that the best thing is to simply take this new version on its own merits.
When you do that, it's easy to realize that it's a very well-crafted film. The Coen brothers visual aesthetic, which worked so well with a Western setting in No Country for Old Men, made for stunning scenes. Their signature Coen-y weirdness worked well when they needed a comic moment, but they used it sparingly enough to allow the film an earnestness that made the dramatic moments effective. The performances, too, were excellent. Jeff Bridges was great, of course, bringing a more menacing touch to the character of Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon was also quite good, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld was perfect as Mattie Ross.
I'm still not on board with the idea of remakes, especially not of classics or of movies that were done right the first time around. I have to admit, though, that there are times when a fresh point of view can make something new that, while perhaps not better than the original, is at least worthy to stand in its company.
Viewed: 12/26/2010 | Released: 12/22/2010 | Score: A-