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Western of the week

Archive of past synopses

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Western of the week (February 14 - 20): True Grit (1969)

On the two True Grits...

I realize is has been several weeks since I've updated this site, but work and other commitments have gotten the better of me. I'll try to post as many more synopses as I can manage, but they probably won't be weekly again for a while.

I did, however, manage to finally see the new version of True Grit currently playing in theaters. Like most western fans, I was curious to see how the Coen brothers' film compared to Henry Hathaway's 1969 version, and I made sure to revisit the old before viewing the new.

It had been a while since I watched the 1969 version, so I queued it up on my Netflix rentals. A lighthearted interpretation of the Charles Portis novel, it is hard not to enjoy the original film. It is full of iconic John Wayne moments-- what fan doesn't remember, "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!" The cinematography captures the feeling of crisp air and bright autumn leaves. Made at a time when many westerns were filled with pathos, Hathaway's film is a pleasant yarn with colorful characters and a compelling bit of adventure.

After reviewing the original, I took in the Coen brothers' True Grit on a Saturday afternoon. I found I enjoyed their version as well, though in quite a different way than I enjoyed seeing the Duke ride as Rooster.

The Coens' film is a darker, moodier interpretation of the story than Hathaway's; the overall feeling is so different it was like comparing apples to oranges. The acting was quite good-- Jeff Bridges hands in a solid performance as Marshal Cogburn, Matt Damon's La Boeuf is leaps and bounds better than Glenn Campbell's, and Hailee Steinfeld is quite adept as Mattie Ross (as well as being more age appropriate). The cinematography is artful, though more subdued and chillier than the original. The new film revels a bit more in the flaws of Rooster and an unvarnished look of the old west than the original-- again, a bit darker, but still well done.

There are days when you want to see a western that waxes nostalgic and leaves you with a little spring in your step. That would be a good day to watch the Duke as Rooster. For those days where you want to feel a little more dirt under your nails, the new True Grit may suit you just fine.


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