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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Movie Review: TRUE GRIT


You can watch the trailer here

When John Wayne won his only Oscar for his performance in True Grit, he started his acceptance speech by saying, "If I'd have known that, I'd have put that patch on thirty-five years earlier." In the entirety of his career, it took the character of Rooster Cogburn, a one-eyed, potbellied sheriff, to finally nab that golden statue. Although I have not seen the other films nominated in the Best Actor race that year (Anne of the Thousand Days; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Midnight Cowboy), I have to wonder why the Academy chose to give Wayne this award in 1970. But more on that in a moment.

True Grit, which was directed by Henry Hathaway, follows the Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), a teenage girl whose father is shot and killed by Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), one of the family's hired help. Mattie enlists the help of a federal marshal by the name of Rooster Cogburn because she has heard that he has "grit." After much persuasion and discussion over payment, the two set off to search for Chaney with the help of a Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell).

The screenplay, adapted from Charles Portis's novel of the same name, is very good for a film in the western genre. The dialogue is very tightly-written, and the story arcs given to both Rooster and Mattie are believable. It's not the most amazing screenplay I've ever seen, but it does well to keep the viewer's interest. In addition, the climactic shootout is definitely noteworthy and memorable.

If anything's hindering the movie from being fantastic, it's the acting. Now, don't get me wrong - there's nothing absolutely terrible about the actors' ability. I was extremely impressed with Darby's portrayal of Mattie Ross. She brought a level of sass to the screen that I'm not sure the Duke (that's John Wayne, for those who don't know) had as much trouble with a female character on-screen since Maureen O'Hara in 1963's McLintock!. However, Darby's character brings a different type of relationship to the screen for Wayne.

Sadly, it's Wayne himself that brings this one down a little bit. Going into the film, I had known that it was the role for which he had won his only Academy Award. Still, I went in with a grain of salt considering that Wayne's range as an actor seemed to be a little limited. After watching True Grit, I can safely say that I think Rooster Cogburn is just another version of the Duke himself; he's just wrapped up in a different costume this time around. John Wayne plays John Wayne; the closest I've ever seen him get away from that was in 1976's The Shootist, which proved to be his final film before his death. It's not that Wayne is bad in True Grit; I just felt that it was more of the same that we've all grown to know. He just looks a little bit different this time.

(On a side note, I think it's worth mentioning that both Oscar-winner Robert Duvall and the late Oscar-nominee Dennis Hopper make appearances in True Grit and probably give the best performances in the film.)

You've still gotta give this movie its due. The cinematography is fantastic as is the norm with John Wayne films; you get the sweeping sense of the country around the characters, and it truly does transport you to a completely different place. Elmer Bernstein's sweeping score also draws you into the film exceptionally well.

To be fair, I only watched this movie at this time because a remake of the film, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, will be released in late December. I have a strict policy of not watching sequels or remakes without seeing the original fare first. I would have watched True Grit regardless, and I'm glad that I did. It's a good, fun movie, although I'm not entirely sold on its stellar accolades. Maybe I'm just of a different generation.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B
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