Out of all of the Oscar-nominated films this year (and ten are way too many!), the only one that I have managed to view on this remote Pacific coral reef is True Grit. Two friends from work and I had a guys' night out last Tuesday and went to see the Coen brother's remake of the 1969 classic. And...it was really, really good - and gritty!
I saw the original movie back in the day, but so much time has passed since then that I was fuzzy on details. John Wayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor in that film, his only win in a long history as a lead actor. Six years later (1975) he did a sequel entitled Rooster Cogburn, the name of the Duke's character in True Grit. Wayne's co-star in the second film was the immortal Katherine Hepburn, and somehow my mind had muddled that sequel with the original movie, leaving me thinking that Katherine Hepburn was a co-star in the the 1969 version of True Grit. She wasn't.
The fictional Rooster Cogburn was a drunken U.S. Marshall who also happened to be the toughest hombre to ever traverse Oklahoma Indian Territory. And while John Wayne nailed the character, his Oscar was probably due more to the fact that Hollywood realized this star of hundreds of movies was fading away, and if they were ever going to recognize him with an Oscar, True Grit would be the last best opportunity.
Jeff Bridges was the new version of Rooster Cogburn. Bridges, who achieved fame as Duane Jackson in The Last Picture Show just two years after John Wayne won his Oscar, also nailed the character of Cogburn. Like his predecessor, Bridges was able to stay atop his horse while charging into a gaggle of bad men with both six-guns blazing - all the while holding the reins in his mouth! Truly true grit! One of my friends referred to that scene as the actor paying homage to John Wayne. I felt that Bridges' Rooster Cogburn also payed homage in large measure to the late Lee Marvin through his stark similarities to Marvin's characters in Cat Ballou and Paint Your Wagon. John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and Jeff Bridges all gave stellar performances as tough old drunks. It was almost as if they weren't acting!
Matt Damon was the Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell's character in the original version) chasing the same outlaw as Cogburn. Damon's performance was exceptional - to the point that I didn't recognize him and had to come home and check the credits to find out who played the part. Josh Brolin was the nasty and evil lout who had killed several men and was on the run with a group of outlaws in Indian Territory. Though his role was a bit part, Brolin gave it the energy and evilness that people have come to expect from Coen brothers' characters.
But the true star of this movie was young Hailee Steinfield who was a mere girl of thirteen during the filming. While riding out into Oklahoma Indian Territory with Bridges and Damon in pursuit of her father's killer, she showed herself time and again to be as tough and as talented as the two older men. Whether it was riding her horse across a river or shinning up a tall tree to cut down a hanged man, Steinfield was equal to the task - and equal to the lawmen who were trying to leave her behind. The dialogue sparkled in this film, and Steinfield never stumbled on so much as a syllable - and the camera loved her! She was simply amazing!
Jeff Bridges has been nominated for Best Actor, an honor unlikely to come his way if for no other reason than he won the same award last year for Crazy Heart - playing a broken down country and western singer. (Is a stereotype developing?) But, Tom Hanks won Best Actor two years in a row, so it is possible. Lightening is more likely to strike with Hailee Steinfield who has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Her performance was mesmerizing and fully deserving of the Oscar.
True Grit is a movie that should appeal to anyone - from academics to teabaggers. It is a great artistic achievement and very entertaining. Get thee to a theatre and see it!