February 21, 2011

True Grit. Much, Much More Than a Remake

First off let me say that, speaking of movies, as a lover of Westerns I have been a lifelong fan of John Wayne—it is not by chance that Rio Bravo is perhaps my favorite movie ever, though no small part of the credit for this is due to Dean Martin and director Howard Hawks. Second, I think that John Wayne’s 1969 True Grit was a great movie. With all this being said, I have to say that the 2010 remake by Joel and Ethan Coen—starring a fierce but self-ironic Jeff Bridges as Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn, a pompous Matt Damon as Texas Ranger La Boeuf, and the young newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, cast as Mattie Ross after competing with 15,000 other applicants for the role—is a great movie, too (watch the trailer below).

So, I’m not at all surprised if the film received critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes, which gives each movie a breakdown of the number of good reviews versus bad, reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 203 reviews, with only 10 negative reviews and an average score of 8.3/10. “The critics,” according to the above mentioned popular movie website, “say the Coen Brothers’ (relatively) straightforward remake of True Grit is a rewarding movie in its own right—it’s tough, sly, and filled with marvelous performances, most notably Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.” In other words, in their reviews the movie pundits think that True Grit is “a crowd-pleasing effort from the Coens that manages to maintain their trademark subversion within the framework of an old-school Western.” Just to make an example, according to Total Film, which gave the film a five-star review (denoting “outstanding”), “This isn’t so much a remake as a masterly re-creation.” As it was not enough, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops review called the film “exceptionally fine” and said “[a]mid its archetypical characters, mythic atmosphere and amusingly idiosyncratic dialogue, writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s captivating drama uses its heroine’s sensitive perspective—as well as a fair number of biblical and religious references—to reflect seriously on the violent undertow of frontier life.”

Well, I am by no means a movie critic, nor an aspiring one, but I couldn’t agree more…

Deservedtly, the movie is currently nominated for ten Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Steinfeld), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing (the ceremony will take place on February 27, 2011).

I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack (by Carter Burwell) as well. It is made up of 19th-century church music. The 1888 hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” is used as Mattie Ross’s theme (Iris DeMent’s version, from her 2004 album Lifeline, is used during the end credits). Other hymns are also referenced in the score, including “The Glory-Land Way” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (watch the featurette video on True Grit’s music). Unfortunately, because the hymns are considered pre-composed music, the score was deemed ineligible to be nominated for Best Original Score in the 2010 Academy Awards.