Thursday, January 06, 2011


As is usually the case now, days after a hot movie is released into theaters you most certainly can find it online for free. Most of the time it's a theater capture on some recording doodad from Russia and if you can put up with the crappy quality of the sound and bobbleheads in front of the cameraperson getting up for popcorn, you'll get an approximation of the film. I prefer to wait for a better experience, and it usually doesn't take long. This time of year is better though, as academy members get sent preview DVDs for Oscar nominations and there are always generous souls willing to share by uploading online.

I'm a huge Coen brothers fan so I've been waiting to see their remake of True Grit. I downloaded one of those aforementioned DVD uploads yesterday, recognized by a scrolling "for academy preview only", and we watched it last night.

Now most of the time movies should stand or fall on their own merit IMHO, but in the case of this remake of the Duke's iconic outing that got him a statue, (some say it was because he was getting to an age where it was an embarrassment that he had never gotten recognition for his movies, "The Conqueror" or not) comparisons are inevitable. I was real interested in seeing if Grit would get the usual Coenization, that quirky but loving parody treatment they give writers, jews in Minnesota, criminal mobs, bowlers and everybody else. They decided not to and why is the big question for me.

By itself Grit is a fine movie. A competent effort all around - great cinemetography, great storytelling, superb performances and I'm a big western fan. Apparently, according to Roger Ebert, the movie is much more of a straight adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel than the 1969 Hathaway film. It's good, but curiously what makes it good is also what makes it suffer a little in comparison to the older iteration. The newer Grit is somewhat darker, more raw, probably a more realistic representation of what that era felt like. Hailee Steinfeld's Matty Ross is superb as the no nonsense daughter in single minded pursuit of revenge for her father's murder, both Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges are barely recognizable as they sink deep into their gruff lawmen personas and being on the trail of bad guys in the wilderness was indeed rough going. the Coens spent a lot of time on the details and it shows, apparently the original was filed in Colorado while the latest was shot in a colder, more rugged territory in Texas. (Rooster Cogburn: Ground's too hard. Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer)

Grits2 plays it straight, faithful to the novel with scenes nearly identical to the earlier picture but in a sweatier, more grim manner. It's a bang up effort probably with Oscar worthy performances, a fine addition to the Coens' long list of great movies. But, I've got to say that some of the key scenes in the original are actually better done. I'll just pick one example. Kim Darby's contentious tete a tete with horse trader Strother Martin was meant to show how level headed and determined the girl was in her quest by out foxing a wily businessman. Her by-the-books going in for the kill is a marvel to behold as the old guy gets increasingly agitated and exasperated. The same scene in the new version is truncated and surly with the trader's aggravation only obliquely referred to. Effective, yes, as entertaining, no.

I wonder why the Coens decided to do this project. Already well known for their insanely imaginative wonders where I liken their efforts not to neurotic fancies but to full blown psychotic houses in the sky where you move right on in, maybe they wanted to prove they could play it straight, make a real movie without the trademark quirkiness and wry humor. They sure succeeded in their project, especially if a viewer had never caught the first version, because placing them side by side was going to be inevitable and I admire them for knowing that in advance and pulling it off well.
For as we all know, caparisons are odorous.


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