Anouk Aimee

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TRUE GRIT Remake Ain't All That

I went to see the Austin Film Society-sponsored sneak peek of TRUE GRIT last week at the Paramount. I respect Harry Knowles and Ain't It Cool News quite a bit, but the Coen Brothers' latest movie just wasn't all that. Maybe I just couldn't see through the wooden line readings and the less than stellar shot composition due to my intense hunger, having skipped dinner at the promise of a lavish after-party sponsored by Shiner Beer where food never materialized. For $45 a ticket, these local brewmasters (recently co-opted by a national shitty beer company) could have at least provided chips and salsa.
Sure, the party was "donated" and all proceeds from the tickets went to the Austin Film Society but still... serving alcohol but not food at an after-party? How irresponsible is that?
Anyway, back to TRUE GRIT. It can be argued that this movie didn't need to be re-made. The original movie from 1969 starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn holds together pretty well for me and doesn't seem dated. Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors and does a fine job as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers' remake, but he doesn't have the larger-than-life swagger of John Wayne, who always commands the frame in any shot he is in. Big stars like John Wayne just don't exist anymore, due in part to the fragmentation of media outlets over the past 20-plus years of myriad cable channels and the development of niche markets. Back in the day, there were only 3 TV networks and a handful of large movie studios -- which made stars more recognizable because EVERYONE saw their images over and over.
The dialogue in the original seemed much more natural than the dialogue of the Coen Brothers' remake. This observation is alarming to me because I have always really enjoyed the Coen Brothers' scripts and use of language and dialogue. The lack of this superior and clever language component makes me wonder if these geniuses are slipping. Maybe the Coens were just overwhelmed by the material. Maybe they got halfway into the project to find they couldn't outdo Marguerite Roberts' 1969 script but were into the movie too deeply to back out so they just sort of gave up and did a half-assed job. Maybe their hearts were not in it in the first place. Maybe they just lost interest or maybe they started to run out of money, but from the beginning of act 3 to the epilogue, the dialogue pacing was off and the delivery inflectionless and flat.
Again, maybe my intense hunger colored my (mis-)perception.
The Coen Brothers' TRUE GRIT is darker than the original movie, more in line with the book's tone. Of course, the whole "revenge is bittersweet" theme is apparent. But there is a joylessness inherent in the remake. The only sequence which reflected the special eerie otherworldly shot composition standard in Coen Brothers' movies was the sequence in which the heroine falls into a cave and encounters rattlesnakes nesting in a human skeleton.
Any Coen Brothers movie is a special treat, but I'm sad to say that TRUE GRIT is not on the same intensity level as O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU or HUDSUCKER PROXY or BLOOD SIMPLE or even THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Let's hope the Coens do better next time.
---------------------------------------by Anne Heller

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