Saturday, January 15, 2011

Film Reviews: True Grit (dir Coen bros) and True Grit ( Henry Hathaway)

As the theatrical release of the Coen brother's remake of the 1969 film adaptation of True Grit is upon us, I thought I would take a moment to look closer at both works. I have to say I've seen the Coen bro's 2010 version now 3 times in a  week. It's an uncommon film which leaves one thinking about it  long after having seen it. The first thing I noticed about the Coen bros version is the use of language within the dialogue. Contractions  (we're, they're, I'll ..etc) are banned from the script, resulting in a very clipped manner of speaking which sounds formal and at the same time almost foreign.  This close attention to detail within dialogue lends authenticity to a story that in it's orginal form ( a novel by Charles Portis)
represents a narrative about charatcers who in addition to their roles within the book have been educated mainly by the Bible, or at the very least have been to church a lot. The other striking quality of the Coen bros film is quality of work. Every aspect is thoughtful, from the color scripting, to how the night scenes are filmed, sound design and score, not to mention the acting (which is superb).

"ohh let's find some where to sleep, I'm so tired it's so late"... broad daylight
Hailee Steinfield and Jeff Bridges as Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn in True Grit 2010
The same thing cannot be said about the 1969 Henry Hathaway version unfortunately.  In fact, I would say at some points, the film is down right careless.   The scene where Rooster Cogburn, Laboef, and Mattie are looking for a place to sleep, is filmed in broad daylight.  However the Coen's version of this scene is dark with the authenticity of night, almost so you only catch glimpses of action which makes watching the scene much more exciting.  The Henry Hathaway version stars  John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, who fails at playing the character of Cogburn, although he does succeed in playing an authentic version of John Wayne with an eye patch. The entire film is as contrary to the spirit of the book as it is possible to be without having huge choreographed dancing technicolor musical numbers. The book as well as the Coen bro's film is a work of sincerity, modesty, and adventure through the sense of duty, while the '69 version is almost reminiscent of a child's romp with old yeller, with production design a typical of the late 1960's. Kim Darby who plays the role of child heroine Mattie Ross has a Twiggy-esque hair cut and wears a bright tangerine dress, thoroughly unsuitable for the time period and the message of the film. Her acting is almost equally as distasteful. Darby comes off as incredibly naive, demanding, slightly prissy and bitchy.

In the modern release Hailee Steinfield plays Mattie Ross to great satisfaction. She posseses a wisdom and determination uncommon in a girl who is actually 14. Steinfield gives gravity to her role which is combination with everything else makes for a  wonderful film. I don't want to give too much away, so all I will say is go see it.
True Grit (2010) 5 out of 5
True Grit (1969) don't bother

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