The Coen Brothers new version of True Grit is getting a lot of press and a lot of critical acclaim.
I mostly liked the new version as I was walking out of the theater, and then my HotWife(tm) ruined it.
I should say here, in case she reads this, that most things she ruins need ruining.
Not that she’d ever read this blog. She considers it a foul and disgraceful outlet for scurrilous opinions that serves the maritally useful purpose of keeping me from inflicting these rants on her.
That sounds about right.
As mentioned before, this remake of True Grit needs ruining. All the critics who are applauding it are derelict and lazy. I now hate this re-make with a passion mean and true. I hate the critics even more. Most of them didn’t bother to see the original. None of them read the book before saying the new movie was more true to the book.
Here’s what happened to make me realize what a horrible piece of True Shit this new movie is:
While we were in a restaurant after the movie, the HotWiife(tm) said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to watch the original movie when we get home?” So we did.
On minor technical points, the new movie scores occasionally. Overall, it’s a 6 and the original movie, is a 9.5.
Most of the critical cachet adhering to the new movie is about it being more “faithful” to the book. I read the book several times as a kid. After watching both movies back to back, I tossed a dozen boxes in the garage looking for the well-worn book and I couldn’t find it. So I ordered a new copy from Amazon.
I have now watched both movies and read the book recently. At least in this respect, I think I’m ahead of 99.9% of people offering opinions. I may be wrong, but I’m not uninformed.
I had most of this already written up after seeing both movies, but I wanted to read the book to be sure I was remembering, not just reminiscing.
Most of the critical cachet attaching to the new movie is about it being worth the effort because it’s more faithful to the book.
It’s not. Spoilers from here on.
All of the professional critics saying the new movie is better because it’s faithful to the book are reading the press releases, not the book. Assholes.
Yes, there are a few scenes from the book in the new movie that are not in the good movie. And there are several great scenes in the good movie that are not in the new movie. For example, “Rat-writ” is in the book and in the good movie, and not in the new movie.
The new movie copies the good movie 90%, except that it is more ugly and more dreary and a lot slower, despite being 20 minutes shorter.
Keep in mind, I didn’t know how much the new movie sucked before seeing the good movie right after. If you haven’t seen both movies in close proximity, you’ll think I’m just being pissy because the new movie, taken alone, isn’t bad. It drags here and there, which the good movie never did, but the strength of the material carries even the new worthless movie. There was no point in remaking this movie.
The few scenes from the book that are not in the good movie but are in the new movie are are tediously long-winded, or abbreviated and without context. The Coens end up leaving a lot of great dialog on the table that was in the good movie because they take so much damn time in every scene. The good movie gets stuff done in 3 minutes that takes 10 in the new movie. I suppose there may be a place or two where the Coen Bros. actually bested the original but I can’t think of one. I’m not saying the Coen’s didn’t have a few more faithful scenes, but faithful isn’t necessarily good. A movie shouldn’t faithfully reproduce pages of dialog from a book that take 2 minutes to read but 12 minutes to say. Mattie’s dickering with the horse-trader is amusing in the book, faithfully unabridged in the new movie, and tedious as hell on screen in the new movie.
The original had more of the meat of the book in it, did it faster, better, smarter. The Coen’s picked and chose in ways that I hope are random but that I actually think are pernicious. I am getting so fucking sick and fucking tired of Hollywood revisionism and cynicism. The Coen’s chose to prolong scenes that would make politically correct lesbian sympathizers happy, cut scenes that were more entertaining but couldn’t be easily deconstructed by said carpet-munching harpies, and generally made the story grayer, uglier and butchier than what was written.
In case you haven’t seen either movie or read the book, it’s a pretty simple story:
Mattie, the 14 year old heroine, is determined to bring her father’s murderer to justice because the feckless law in the town where he was killed isn’t going to do a damn thing about it. She is willing to hire someone to go get the murderer as long as she gets to go along to keep tabs. The whole thing is about her relentless pursuit and the allies she wins over along the way.
Back to why the new movie sucks:
For example (more spoilers), in the new movie, Rooster, for no goddamn good reason, kicks a couple of little kids off a porch into the mud and rain. Then, a few minutes later, he comes outside and does it again. That scene was in the book and not in the old good movie.
But, in the book, there was context: the kids were sadistic little shits tormenting a mule. Maybe there was a tormented mule in the new movie to justify what Rooster did and I missed it in the new movie’s murk and rain.
In any case, it wasn’t obvious why Rooster did it in the new movie. Except it’s pretty funny to kick little kids off a porch into the mud for no reason.
The book lesson from this scene: Rooster is outraged by little shits who abuse animals for no good reason. But Rooster will abuse an animal for a good reason. At the end of the book, when Rooster does something horrific to an animal, this scene sets up how much it cost him.
The old movie decision: let’s just leave this out because it would take too long to explain and John Wayne can carry the scene when the time comes anyway.
New movie lesson: It’s funny to kick kids for no reason. No fucking connection to anything else.
And the guy hanging from the tall tree in the new movie is neither in the book nor in the good movie. This was just a shitty perverse thing the Coen’s pulled out of their Hollywood shitty perverse asses to make a 14 year old girl have to do something shitty, perverse, pointless and ugly. Why didn’t you just make her eat a grasshopper?
I’ve loved the Coen Brothers since Blood Simple, even when they’ve made mis-steps. I was excited to hear they were going to re-do True Grit, because it means they must love the book and want to bring something fresh and out of left field to it.
I have to assume that the Coens’ watched the original at some point while making the new one, or they couldn’t have done such a scene-by-scene slavish re-make. Which really kinds of pisses me off at them. Really, the two movies are almost identical in gross ways. The new movie is “grittier” in look–it’s greyer and sepia-er. The old movie has gorgeous scenery and color. It pops. Other than that, it’s the same movie, storyboarding-wise.
Jeff Bridges’ performance is fine. But like the rest of the new movie it pales compared to John Wayne’s Acadamy Award-winning tour de force. While reading the book again last week, I heard John Wayne in my head for everything Rooster said.
Bridges is one charming motherfucker, but charm ain’t enough to steal the role. As for everyone saying Matt Damon’s performance kicked Glen Campbell’s ass, no, he didn’t. In context, Campbell was fine, and his naivete stood out. Damon’s performance was as dingy as the rest of the new movie. Campbell’s heroism at the end of the good movie stands out because of his feckless barely adequate performance at the beginning.
One thing we’ve come to expect from a re-make is stepped-up violence and shock value. The Coens fail even at this. There is one cringe-inducing scene in the middle (I’m trying to avoid a spoiler) where this difference is most obvious. In the original, the scene starts building suspense and spinning out of control with any of several people in it likely to be randomly maimed. In the new movie, the scene feels expectedly unexpected like someone unexpectedly getting shot in a James Bond movie in mid-sentence when about to reveal the villain’s identity. The Coens were clueless about the suspense and menace, even if they did show the aftermath of the maiming more graphically.
In the new movie, Mattie exudes more than a whiff of neurotic obsession, coupled with Aspergerishly sexless monomania and an ostentatious IQ. She’s always correcting everyone’s spelling and using words they don’t know that she knows they don’t know. In the book and in the good movie, she’s formidable and normal. Never once in the book does Mattie grammar police climb up someone’s ass.
She goes out of her way to be nice and she’s compassionate and tolerant, until you seriously fuck with her. She’s almost Heinlein-ianly omnicompetent and decent and sensible. It doesn’t seem odd she’d undertake this quest–It seems shameful that the rest of us wouldn’t do the same. She’s a hero, not a head-case.
By the end of the new movie, Mattie is a full-blown asshole. In another of those out-of-context scenes that abbreviate the book while pretending to be “faithful,” Mattie spends her last couple of minutes on screen being as big a bitch as Rooster was a bastard in the new movie kicking those brats off the porch.
In the book, the scene makes you realize that she remains unbowed after all that happened to her and that she has sacrificed personal happiness to remain unafraid and true to herself and her duties. She’s noble. By modern standards, she’s tragic, like immigrant parents who sacrifice their lives for their children.
In the new movie, she ends up portrayed as an ur-lesbian embittered bitch who’s randomly mean. She disses an old man for why you’re not sure. In the book, the guy she unloads on at the very end is Frank James (as in Frank and Jesse James) and she does it for good reason.
In the good movie, it ends like a movie should. They don’t include a scene from a book that doesn’t work in a movie.
The worst thing about the new movie is that it doesn’t adequately develop the relationship between Mattie and Rooster. Again, trying to avoid spoilers, you don’t know why Rooster goes to such lengths for her in the new movie, except from a generalized “women and children first” chivalry. His behavior feels generic and impersonal in the new movie. In the good movie, you see him slowly and subtlely charmed and won over by the girl, and his need to save her makes sense and arises from their relationship.
Finally, the newly-published version of the book that I got from Amazon has a PBS (Pseudo-intellectual Bitch Shut-up!) essay at the end. It’s the moral equivalent of the new movie. A snotty, cowardly betrayal of the book. Like the new movie, it disses more than celebrates Mattie. Her big virtues and big sacrifices are treated as quaint and picturesque–“Sunday School.” Random literary allusions are enlisted to pad the word count, from The Canterbury Tales to Huck Finn to The Wizard of Oz to Catcher in the Rye. The essay is like stapling a turd to a diamond……
I recommend you read the book and watch the good movie and the new movie. Maybe, if you’re stupid, you won’t agree with what I’ve said. But just do it.