Connect with us

John Wayne

‘True Grit’: The Coen Brothers’ Fine But Middling John Wayne Remake

Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit is their second remake of a classic film. The first, The Ladykillers (a noisy reimagining of the understated 1955 Ealing Studios comedy), was by almost any reasonable account the brothers’ worst film. True Grit is also, arguably, the Coens’ second Western, following 2007’s No Country for Old Men—by general consensus, their finest work. It is perhaps fitting, then, that True Grit lies squarely between these two poles of their career: a fine but middling production by the duo’s elevated standards.
The 1969 version of True Grit, directed by Henry Hathaway, won John Wayne his only Oscar in the role of Arkansas marshal Rooster Cogburn; the Coens’ remake would seem intended to do the same for Jeff Bridges, if not for the fact that it comes a year too late. Indeed, there are notable similarities between Cogburn and Crazy Heart‘s Bad Blake, the role that earned Bridges his Academy seal-of-approval last year: both are ornery, likable drunks, who were exceptionally good at their chosen professions until they decided to set up residence in a bottle. Yes, Cogburn is a killer and Blake a singer, but that is merely the difference between Western and Country & Western.

As in the earlier film, and the Charles Portis novel on which it is based, Cogburn is hired by a headstrong 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), to track down and punish Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the lowlife who murdered her father and fled into Indian territory. Mattie also demands, improbably but immovably, that she accompany Cogburn on the mission. They are intermittently accompanied in their vengeful endeavor by an epicene Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Matt Damon), who wishes to see Chaney hanged for an unrelated infraction.
They encounter the typical obstacles along the way: snappish snakes, unforgiving elements, and a passel of auxiliary desperadoes (including Barry Pepper, whose small but excellent performance—in a role played by Robert Duvall in the original—is bested only by that of the makeup technician responsible for his terrifyingly snaggled dentition). But in classic Western tradition, the tale is largely a journey from point A to point B, from crime to punishment. There are heavy echoes of Unforgiven, of Lonesome Dove, and of the countless Westerns they were themselves echoing.
After the triumph of No Country for Old Men, the Coens would seem a perfect match for such material: for the stark, unforgiving expanses of the Old West and the laconic antiheroes who prowled it. The problem is that while the former is in gorgeous evidence, the latter are nowhere to be found. Cogburn, Mattie, and La Boeuf are all inveterate talkers, and hardly a minute goes by without the airing of some boast, dispute, or complaint. The precocious Mattie is a particular problem, her hyperactive patter awkwardly recalling that of Nicolas Cage’s H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona and George Clooney’s Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou. (In the 1969 film, Mattie was played by 21-year-old Kim Darby; Steinfeld, by contrast, is actually 14, rendering her a more plausible child but, paradoxically, a less plausible protagonist.) I held out hope for the appearance of Josh Brolin, who elevated taciturnity to an art in No Country, but despite his above-the-title billing, his role in the film is largely perfunctory.
Ultimately, it’s hard to shake the sense that the Coens opted to remake the wrong Western. True Grit is a sentimental tale, at least by the standards of the genre, and the Coens are not—to put it mildly—sentimentalists. They restore a few of the more somber elements of the Portis novel, but this is still the story of a plucky girl and her grizzled companion and, as such, perhaps best suited to the ingenuous tone of the 1969 version.
That’s not to say the Coens’ film is without its strengths: a good, if slightly familiar performance by Bridges; a nice, customarily modest turn by Damon, who may be the most versatile star working today; and, of course, the brothers’ usual technical prowess.
But the real reason to see the film is the work of the Coens’ regular collaborators, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell, who supply the visual and auditory landscapes that are True Grit‘s most notable achievement. (Burwell’s evocative score, which consists largely of delicate variations on the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”—and recalls his magnificent appropriation of “Limerick’s Lamentation” in Miller’s Crossing—is alone worth the price of admission.)
Deakins has shot every Coen brothers movie since 1991’s Barton Fink (along with such beautiful films as The Shawshank Redemption, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Revolutionary Road); Burwell’s fruitful collaborations with the Coens date back further still, all the way to their 1984 debut Blood Simple. Neither man, I am dismayed to report, has ever won an Academy Award. It seems unlikely that this oversight will be corrected by as modest a vehicle as True Grit. But one can dream.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

John Wayne

John Wayne Pushed Through a Severe Injury to Ensure ‘The Train Robbers’ Premiered on Schedule

John Wayne is known around the world as one of the most iconic cowboys of all time. Decades after his death, John Wayne continues to be praised for his nearly 200 unforgettable appearances in film and television. And though his larger-than-life presence, good looks, and husky voice took him far in Hollywood, it was his commitment to his films that led to John Wayne playing such a large role in cinema history.

The Duke began his career in 1926. As time went on, the stoic superstar developed a reputation as a stunt man. Many of his Westerns involved action-heavy scenes, and the technology to make stunt work easier to fake didn’t yet exist. As such, many legendary John Wayne films were extremely physically demanding.

Hiring a stunt man was an option used by many in Hollywood. But The Duke refused. Instead, he insisted on doing his stunts himself. Though this was an admirable step to take, it led to many injuries for Wayne throughout his career.

The audience knew that the hero would win in the end, but reaching victory often involved getting punched, kicked, shot, and stabbed along the way. He was even blown up and crushed by a bulldozer (on separate occasions, of course).

John Wayne Filmed ‘The Train Robbers’ With Broken Ribs

Perhaps the most horrifying injury of John Wayne’s career occurred on the set of the 1973 Western The Train Robbers. In the film, Wayne plays the starring role of Lane, the leader of a group of cowboys hunting down a dastardly train robber.

According to the John Wayne biography entitled Duke by Ronald L. Davis, The Duke broke two ribs mere days before filming began on The Train Robbers. As Wayne was an irreplaceable star, the injury led to a rearranging of the film. Rather than focusing on high-speed chases and deadly battles between cowboys and outlaws, The Train Robbers honed in on dialogue and character building.

That said, it was still a Western, and every Western needs a certain amount of action. For The Duke, it was essential that “the action scenes looked believable”. Wayne was so committed to his scenes that he flat-out refused to work around his injury. “He wasn’t a crybaby,” his wife Pilar Wayne told The LA Times. “He could tolerate pain.”

And tolerate pain, he did. John Wayne pushed through the broken ribs, determined to keep the film as close to the original script as possible. While filming, he was clearly limited with his movements and he appeared somewhat ill on set.

On-screen, however, no one could tell the difference. The Duke still gave a fantastic performance. Three years later, his Hollywood career came to an end, but John Wayne will always be remembered as the tough-as-nails actor he truly was.

Continue Reading

John Wayne

Original Cast of John Wayne’s ‘The Cowboys’ to Celebrate Film’s 50th Anniversary With The Duke’s Family

The career of John Wayne is one of the most revered in all of American filmmaking regardless of genre. Even long after his death, his unmatched contributions to the Western film genre are still a thing of legend.

John Wayne: An American Experience, The Cowboy Channel, Stockyards Heritage, and Hotel Drover have partnered up with the members of the cast of The Cowboys and Wayne’s family. Together, they will host a celebratory festival in honor of the 50th anniversary of the fan-favorite film. The official John Wayne Instagram page announced the event by paying tribute to one of Wayne’s many iconic moments.


“In honor of the 50th Anniversary of The Cowboys, celebrate with members of the original cast & the Wayne family June 24, 25, & 26 in the Fort Worth Stockyards! For a list of events and tickets, head to JohnWayne.com”

The 1972 film is based on the book of the same name by William Dale Jennings. Wayne stars alongside Roscoe Lee Browne, Slim Pickens, Colleen Dewhurst, and Bruce Dern. The Cowboys tells the story of a down on his luck rancher being forced to hire a group of inexperienced cowboys to get his herd to market on time. It’s one of Wayne’s most enduring films with his performance often regarded as one of his best.

The Cowboys Still Holds A Special Place in Hearts of Film Fans

Fans of the film will no doubt be thrilled by the opportunity to hear directly from the people who worked and lived alongside Wayne during the making of the classic film. One member of the cast, A Martinez who played Cimarron, took to his own Instagram account to post a message about his experience shooting The Cowboys for its 50th anniversary.


“It was a thrill and an honor to be a part of this project,” said Martinez in his post. “A haunting, timeless theme, adapted from the novel by William Dale Jennings, brilliantly directed by Rydell. With gorgeous cinematography by Bob Surtees, an indelible score by John Williams –– and a great performance by John Wayne –– the power of #TheCowboys abides.”

The 3-day celebration includes outdoor screenings after sunset on the Livestock Exchange lawn all three nights. Fans will have meet and greet opportunities with 9 members of the cast. Then, A live televised film panel with a studio audience will film at The Cowboy Channel Studio Sunday night. In addition, there will be special installations and reception at John Wayne: An American Experience, a sprawling 10,000 square foot exhibit providing an intimate look at the life of The Duke.

Any fan of John Wayne who can make it to Fort Worth, Texas for this celebration of a beloved piece of Wayne’s filmography should purchase tickets as soon as possible. Relive the memories of this classic film alongside cast members and Wayne’s family with the special event.

Continue Reading

John Wayne

This John Wayne Western Almost Starred Elvis Presley

When you hear the names Elvis Presley and John Wayne, the word icon undoubtedly comes to mind. Although they were famous figures in their own right, they had more in common than you might think. For instance, they nearly starred alongside one another in one of Wayne’s many westerns.

As the undisputed King of rock ‘n’ roll, Presley became a worldwide viral sensation for his gyrating hips and rock-n-roll music. Yet, he also dipped his toes into the world of movies.

He had performed in various movies like King Creole and Blue Hawaii in the past. In addition, he had some Western movie experience when he starred in Love Me Tender. According to IMDb, the movie is a Western set during the end of the American Civil War.

Elvis plays the role of Clint Reno, the brother of a Confederate soldier who becomes involved in a train robbery. The movie was released in 1956, just as Elvis became a rising star. As a result, he grabbed the attention of another acting veteran.

Love Me Tender was the hitmaker’s first movie role. Little did he know, John Wayne was watching at home. As a result, Wayne decided he wanted to collaborate with the rising star.

Elvis Presley’s manager decides on True Grit role

Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, once answered whether John Wayne asked Presley to star with him in a movie more than once. According to Smith, via his Youtube channel, co-starring alongside Wayne wasn’t Presley’s style, or rather, it wasn’t his manager’s preference.

Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, once answered whether John Wayne asked Presley to star with him in a movie more than once. According to Smith, via his Youtube channel, co-starring alongside Wayne wasn’t Presley’s style, or rather, it wasn’t his manager’s preference.

As Smith described, anytime anyone wanted to collab with The King, it was “always carried through Colonel.” Presley was at the height of his fame around this time. According to Smith, “Colonel didn’t want him to play … second star with anybody else.” 

Sadly, Presley would miss out on the role of LeBoeuf. In addition, he wouldn’t get to join forces with one of the genre’s most beloved figures. Glen Campbell would instead take on the part. 

However, maybe the decision happened for a better reason. When the film was released in 1969, it was a critical moment for Presley’s career. In December of 1968, just before True Grit premiered, Presley embarked on his now-legendary “comeback special.” In 1969, he delivered almost 60 performances at the magnificent International Hotel in Las Vegas. 

During this whirlwind of a year, Presley proved the point of his manager: Elvis Presley would play second fiddle to nobody, even John Wayne. 

Continue Reading

Trending