About a year to a year and a half ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a news story reporting that the Coen Brothers were going to be remaking TRUE GRIT and my reaction was the typical anger and righteous indignation that you’d expect from someone who grew up watching John Wayne Westerns. I was incredulous. After all, TRUE GRIT is one of the best movies ever made, John Wayne is a god, and there’s that scene, Jesus Christ, that scene. Last week, if you’d asked me to give you a detailed synopsis of the movie, it would have gone something like this:
Well, John Wayne, right? And he’s got an eye patch, which is fucking awesome. And he’s on his horse, across this field from the four bad guys and he tells them he intends to kill them and one of them calls him a one-eyed fat man and he looks at them and says, “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” and then takes the reigns of his horse and puts them in his teeth, cocks his rifle with one fucking hand, and pulls out this massive pistol and starts riding at the bad guys, shooting at them with both hands. When he’s done killing them there’s a little more shit and then the movie is over.
And that, if it were accurate, would damn near be a perfect movie. Instead, however, it turns out that’s just all the memory I had of it since I hadn’t seen it since I was 11 or 12. Turner Classic Movies was airing it about three or four months ago and I decided to record it since I hadn’t seen it in forever. Well, I finally got around to watching it last weekend while my wife was out of town and…wow. There are people in this country, some of them friends of mine, who would completely lose their shit if they were to hear me say this, but…TRUE GRIT is kind of a shitty movie.
And John Wayne wasn’t particularly good in it. And yet, he won the Oscar for best actor for his performance in this film. That has to have been some sort of charity move on the part of the academy. Aside from that one particularly cool scene, Wayne just wasn’t that good in this movie. Not as good as he was in RIO BRAVO or THE SEARCHERS or THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE or his last movie, THE SHOOTIST. But whatever, I don’t want to start listing which of his movies sucked and which didn’t.
Another problem I had with the movie this time around was Kim Darby, the actress who plays Mattie Ross. She’s a good actress, she really is, but there’s just something about her that bugs the shit out of me. Back when I was still able to watch old episodes of the original STAR TREK, one of the few episodes I couldn’t fucking stand was MIRI and mostly because Miri bugged the shit out of me. She was brilliant as John Cusack’s mother in BETTER OFF DEAD (“It has raisins in it. You like raisins.”) and I’ll still watch that movie but whenever she’s on screen I just cringe. It’s really, really unfair and not at all a valid criticism of the film but she just bugs the shit out of me (though in all fairness that might just be because her character was written as such an obnoxious brat). I’m apparently not the only one who feels this way.
And then there’s that awesome scene. Man, I don’t know, but it really wasn’t that awesome this time around. It’s entirely possible that my childhood memory of it had built it up into something greater than it was, but I kinda doubt it. “Fill your hands you son of a bitch,” is a seriously great line and when he cocks the rifle with one hand it’s still fucking awesome, but then…it just feels kind of lethargic. And Wayne clearly isn’t riding his horse in the close up shots of him firing his weapons. I don’t know, it just didn’t work for me this time around.
You can argue all you want that Hollywood used to make better movies, there’s certainly an argument to be made that that’s true. But one thing that’s absolutely true is that they’ve gotten better at making them. That’s a very broad statement and yes, I realize that Michael Bay is an idiot and that TERMINATOR: RISE OF THE TESTES is bullshit but you and I are as much to blame for that as Hollywood is. Bottom line, however, is that the people who make movies have gotten better at it over the last forty years and as a result what works and doesn’t work for the audience has changed quite a bit as well. And, again, you can kill as much time as you have left in this world debating whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, it’s a true thing and there are a lot of old movies that just don’t hold up so well as they age. TRUE GRIT is one of them.
During the (literally) five minutes of research I put into writing this, I’ve discovered that the Coen Brothers aren’t, strictly speaking, planning a remake and are instead choosing to more faithfully adapt the novel. I’ve never read it so I don’t know if that’s a bad idea or not, but at this point? Fuck it, I’m curious to see what they do with it. I just hope it’s closer to MILLER’S CROSSING than it is to THE LADYKILLERS.
And for anyone who thinks I’m insane and that John Wayne is a legend who never made a bad movie, I have two words for you: THE CONQUEROR.