True Grit

Returning to the ground of 2007’s awe-inspiring No Country For Old Men The Coen Brothers strap on spurs and go back to the 1880s to bring us a proper Western in the remake of 1969’s True Grit.

Remake perhaps being the wrong word for a film which goes to the same source of the creditable John Wayne starring Henry Hathaway directed Western staple but brings something different and distinctly Coen playing with the Cowboy cliché with a joyousness. 14 year old protagonist Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is as far away as a voice for the film as The Duke Wayne could be.

Not that this is the Coen’s first perverting of the genre. Their stab at film noir – 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There – gave our hard boiled barber with aspirations of being a dry cleaner a close encounter to contextualise his tedious life. Better is their retelling of The Odyssey in 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

George Clooney signing bluegrass aside True Grit’s eye-patched Rooster Cogburn – The Dude Lebowski himself Jeff Bridges – recalls John Goodman‘s rapacious Cyclops and sets the Coen’s latest epic in a suitable backdrop. With no justice after her journey Mattie is forced to seek the kind of company Clooney’s McGill avoided. Cogburn gets his redemption, but is punished for it by the changing of the age.

A modern hero then, like The Wrestler‘s Randy (Darren Aronofsky, 2008), Cogburn stays stable while the World turns under his feet. Cogburn’s brutality as out of keeping with an increasingly civilised world as Randy’s “sitting on guy’s faces” wrestling moves are but both men – in the end – are prepared to die doing what they do, because it is all they can do.

Which takes us back to another Dude – crooner Dean Martin‘s sidekick to Wayne in Howard Hawks’ 1959 epic Rio Bravo – who fights his shaking hands and his love of liquor inspired to take a stand by Wayne’s gnarled Sheriff John Chance.

“Sorry don’t get it done, Dude” Chance tells the alcoholic who seeks to duck out of defending the town jail. He takes the heavy glass of bourbon and without spilling a drop pours it back through the neck of the bottle. As a display of true grit cinema has few scenes to match it.

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