Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Movie Review: True Grit (1969)

As it looks like we in Germany will have to wait well into 2011 to see one of the most anticipated films of 2010, I will have to content myself with a look at the 1969 version of True Grit for now. To be honest, it is a little surprising to a Western novice to see that the Coen’s have chosen this title to remake. After all, it was a John Wayne film, and he is one of those actors whose stature and reputation would discourage most from remaking any of his roles. To make matters worse, and even though it is the one film for which he received an Oscar, it is hardly the title in Wayne’s cannon of films one would consider remaking. It is fun, and watchable, but it has a flavor that reminds the viewer more of seventies films like the “Apple Dumpling Gang” more than contemporary titles like “Once Upon a Time in the West” or “The Wild Bunch.” Then again, that may make it the perfect title to tackle.

…Especially when you look at the source material. By all accounts it is a very good novel with good historical detail, Biblical themes and style, and a popular subject matter where Westerns are concerned: revenge. The story is that of a 14 year old girl trying to avenge her father’s murder by hiring a Deputy Marshall and chasing the killer into Indian Territory. Along the way there are gun fights, rattlesnakes, and outdoor camping in winter weather… everything you could ask for from a western adventure.

Part of the reason this film feels too modern is that it looks at a side of the Old West that we are not used to seeing. We often forget that this period in history was close to modern times. Back east the industrial revolution was about to occur, and this story takes place on the eastern edge of the wild in Arkansas and Oklahoma (even if the filming took place hundreds of miles away from those areas.) The girl in this story would be a middle aged woman by the time the 1st World War occurred. We like to think of the Old West as ancient, mythic history, but the reality and the myth are two very different things and this story tries to straddle the boundary.

The Coen Brothers, if they stay true to form, will lean towards the reality over the myth. Hopefully they will bring out a lot of the deeper issues from the novel as well.

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