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December 22, 2010


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Jeff Calvin

James Taylor obviously should have had the good sense to have been born in Nigeria and play 40-minute trance-inducing jams with lots of percussion and endless three-note saxophone solos.

Jeff McM

Jeff Wells is a bitter jackass. Just kidding!

The Siren

Since we are all familiar with cinematic convention here at SCR, we know how all this Wells/Kenny bickering must end by the last reel, yes?

I envision Jeff and Glenn meeting at a secluded cafe...but am still trying to decide which one will be wearing a red carnation and holding Anna Karenina.


Some people don't even deserve a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking. They deserve to be beaten about the head with said coal-stuffed stocking, 'Scum'-style.


I will admit, there was wasn't much chance of my not digging this movie (two of my favorite filmmakers adapting my favorite writer is a bit of a cinch, y'know) but I really did not expect to be wiping my eyes when the credits came up. That final section is darned strange and potent that I keep underestimating all of the very solid stuff that precedes it. I rarely see movies more than once in theaters, more because I'm a lowly pauper than anything else, but I look forward to doing just that with TRUE GRIT.

Oh, and I guess I should mention what originally compelled me to comment here, which is that I loved how your MSN review, in addition to be a typically engaging and thoughtful piece of writing, really reflects those notes of hard-won ardor and tenderness that make this movie so great, for me. Those cats are lucky to have you writing for them, Mr. Kenny.

Tom Carson

Oh, how I fear the Wrath of SCR for confessing that I wasn't totally blown away by True Grit. It's fine and so on, but not the movie I was hoping for until the final 10 minutes or so. I can't help thinking that Joel and Ethan are starting to take their revised rep as nouveau classicists a mite too much to heart.


I was hoping to see TRUE GRIT today before work at an early morning screening, but circumstances prevented that; I will try and see it tomorrow morning before work.

Glenn Kenny

No wrath, Tom, just interest; I think we're actually both on a similar page, but there's just, as that Howard Devoto feller once put it, a question of degree to contend with. For you, it didn't become the movie you hoped for until the end; for me, the end kind of closed the deal.

But I do know what you mean, although it didn't bother me as much. The hanging scene, as played in the book, almost handed them an opportunity to go way out there, and years ago, they might have taken it; in this case, they opted to be a little more "tasteful." I daresay they might not have wanted to compromise a PG-13 rating, were I to want to wax cynical. But attempting to ascribe motivations to particular choices is not my bag, baby; and anyway, overall, what they did worked for me. But a lot of it doesn't play as "typically" Coenesque, for sure.


I haven't seen it (tomorrow) but I would think that if much of the movie doesn't play as Coenesque, that would be because they themselves wanted it to play as Portisesque? Yes? No?

Tom Carson

bill, I don't think it plays as especially Portisesque, either, since the novel is so stylized and the Coens -- surprise, surprise -- opt to muffle rather than accentuate that. As Glenn says, the book offers them opportunities they don't take but that the younger Coens might have. I think it's a really handsome movie, but one that's a lot less eccentric than it maybe should be.


Well, I can't comment, obviously. TRUE GRIT does seem to me to be the least eccentric of Portis's novels (though I haven't read GRINGOS) and I feel like as long as the language, by why of dialogue, is intact, which I hear it is, then Portis should come through. But what do I know. More tomorrow.


I've seen a lot of reviews suggesting this isn't typically Coenesque; perhaps, then, it will be the first Coen Bros. film that I actually like/think is any good. I saw some of the original TRUE GRIT on TV last night and was stunned by how bad it was, and how bad, in particular, Wayne was. Surely the most mannered, actorly, cutesy, and least... soulful thing he ever did; it figures that he won his one Oscar for it.


I put "Little Fockers" on my Worst of Year list, Glenn, but if it makes you feel any better, I admitted to laughing a few times during "Grown Ups."

We all have our weaknesses. Mine, apparently, is arrow roulette.

Chris O.

Love the review and can't wait to see it. Wild, too, that you mentioned Avery/Murnau as I actually have both SUNRISE and THE COMPLETE DROOPY THEATRICAL COLLECTION sitting on my Blu Ray player right now.


Even though probably nobody's gonna read this, well, ever, I figured I'd get some thoughts down as a bit of a dry-run for my own review.

First off, I thought it was excellent -- a beautifully made film. Glenn, you're right about that opening shot of the body; I thought that was absolutely stunning. Damon was great, born for the role, and Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin were both, I thought, absolutely terrific in their small roles. Brolin's slightly odd cadence struck me as oddly perfect, and Pepper gave off a wonderful air of professional menace. Steinfeld couldn't have been better.

And I thought the film was plenty Coenesque, as well as plenty Portisesque. For all the talk of how much of the dialogue was taken from Portis's book, nobody seems to mention what a perfect marriage his way with language is with the Coens'. A fair chunk of what makes a Coen bros. film Coenesque is their language, and I thought that was there in full force.

And it's not all Portis, anyway. The Coens did make some changes. I obviously didn't reread the novel today, but I flipped around quite a bit, and the hanging man, the bearskin trader, and LeBoeuf parting briefly from Mattie and Rooster were all created by the Coens (or so I thought while watching it, and so my flipping through the book seemed to confirm).

Further, I don't get the knocks on Hathaway's film, or Wayne. I watched crucial scenes from the earlier film when I got home from the theater, and there's a pantload of Portis's dialogue in that film, too. It's also a very faithful adaptation of Portis, but only up to a point. Both films make changes, but the Hathaway film makes bigger changes, darkening one element of the film in order to soften another, later portion (and adding a prologue scene with Mattie and her father). Wayne is great in the film, but he's jollier than Bridges (although one bit that Hathaway kept from Portis that the Coens didn't was the scene where Rooster invites Mattie over for dinner to discuss her offer of employment). Bridges is very broad, but also more dissolute and worn out, which strikes me as much closer to Portis. Wayne's take on Rooster is a man who drinks a lot but is a fine fellow to be around pretty much all the time. Bridges's Cogburn, you have to watch.

The night journey at the end I think highlights the weaknesses of Hathaway's version, and the strengths of the Coens'. There's a true sense of desperation, poetry, and even impressionism in the Coens version that Hathaway's lacks, almost entirely, which, given where Hathaway is preparing to depart from Portis, makes a certain amount of sense, I guess, but it hurts the film. Watching the scene as the Coens handled it, I was tearing up.

One last thing: I was sure, based on the voice in the narration, that the adult Mattie was going to be played by Marcia Gay Harden, which I would have loved, both because she would have been perfect, and because it would have been a nice return to the Coens' world so many years after MILLER'S CROSSING. I got no beef with Elizabeth Marvel's performance, but that still would have been pretty cool.

PS - Yes, Glenn, the Quantrill stuff is quietly, and subtly important to this new film, as it was in Portis. Don't forget who adult Mattie snaps at in the almost-last scene.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks Bill. All excellent points. I, too, recently rewatched the Hathaway and concur with all your points, or most of them. I've been thinking a lot about the differences. It's true that the Hathaway is also true to the book, in its fashion. It even includes some action from the book that the Coen version does not, for instance the business with Quincy and Moon and the turkey. But it also indeed lightens things, even in such rudimentary ways as setting some night scenes in broad, sunny daylight. And while it includes a lot of the book's dialogue, it also tends to make minor changes in that dialogue to render it less "strange." Drop a conjunction here, and a clause there, and a lot of the stuff loses its quirky flavor. Interesting. The Hathaway isn't a bad film at all, but it is VERY plain in parts. By coincidence, on the day I looked at it, when I went to the gym I put on TCM on one of the monitors, and coincidentally it was showing "The Searchers," and wow, talk about a shot-by-shot contrast just in terms of camera placement alone! Some folks are arguing over at Wells' place about the ostensible TV-movieish qualities of the Hathaway film, with Robert Cashill averring that Hathaway keeps the 1.85 frame active in a way it never was in a television film of the time. By the same token, however, the establishing shot in the courtroom scene is pretty damn "People's Court" if you ask me. I still believe, as I said in my review, that they're not only different movies, but different ideas of movies. But they don't necessarily exist in active opposition to each other, either. And Wayne IS quite enjoyable, as is Darby and yes, even Campbell, and the supporting cast, particularly the skeevy character actors (remember when Duvall was one of THOSE, as opposed to a distinguished thespian?!) as the bad guys. Another fabulous Hopper-Wayne face-off, those are always worth the price of admission so to speak.

Bill, that's J.K. SImmons doing the voice-over of the lawyer in the Coen picture, is it not?


"The Hathaway isn't a bad film at all, but it is VERY plain in parts."

Yes it is -- that's the major difference. "Different ideas of movies" is absolutely right. I just bristle at the idea, being bandied about by some people, that the Hathaway film is somehow "bad". It's not great, but I think it's very good, for all the reasons you (and I) have pointed out. And I think it's very curious the changes made to Hathaway, or at least one change. I won't say which it is, but there is one part where Hathaway goes darker than Portis (and therefore darker than the Coens), and while I can imagine a couple of reasons why Hathaway and company went that way, anyone coming to the Coens' film from the Hathaway film, but skipping Portis's novel, are going to howl about how the Coens Hollywoodized the thing, and so on.

And I couldn't say if that was Simmons. I thought the voice sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. If it was Simmons, he was deepening his voice, and now I couldn't say.

Tom Carson

My (very relative) disappointment w/True Grit strikes even me as peculiar, so maybe I'd better see it again or something. I agree it's a pleasure to hear all the Portis dialogue, but playing it as mulch-mouthed frontier naturalism rather than a conscious comic artifice made some of the best exchanges land more dimly than I wanted. I also think that casting Bridges ends up sentimentalizing Rooster, maybe more subtly than casting Wayne did in the Hathaway version but to not all that different an effect. I'm conscious of watching an enormously likable movie star doing a turn as a lovable reprobate, at some cost to Rooster's genuinely unendearing side. And then there's the score, which to my ears inflates the material in an incongruously reverential way, and some of the least interesting editing I remember in any Coens movie -- expert (duh), but kind of stately all the same. I don't have any problem calling it a real good movie, but only the wonderful night-ride sequence and the latter-day coda with the adult Mattie had the quality of *strangeness* I guess I was hoping for.

Will S


As to your comment, "Don't forget who adult Mattie snaps at in the almost-last scene." Do you mean the guy at the Wild West Show? If so, what does this character have to do with the Quantrill stuff?


Will - That was Frank James, who, with his brother Jesse, was among the most infamous of Quantrill's Raiders.

I'm not saying this moment hammers home any particular point or anything, mind you. It's more that it ties in with Rooster and his past, and the "present" of the story, and how his future loops into that violent and horrible past with the James boys as he ages into a tired old man.

Bruce Reid

bill: "I just bristle at the idea, being bandied about by some people, that the Hathaway film is somehow "bad"."

Where have you been picking that up, bill? Pretty much every writeup I've read has been generally respectful of Hathaway's version, with a few even plunking down for it as the superior film. (I'm not questioning your perception, I'm genuinely curious to read such a review.)

"[T]he Quantrill stuff is quietly, and subtly important to this new film, as it was in Portis."

Though if memory serves (and it probably doesn't) both films elide the telling detail that Cogburn's heroic, and legendary, move at the end, charging superior forces with reins clenched in teeth and both hands filled, was something he picked up in the war.

Tom Carson: "[O]nly the wonderful night-ride sequence and the latter-day coda with the adult Mattie had the quality of *strangeness* I guess I was hoping for."

De insolitus non disputandum est (if google got that right for me), but I'd add, at a minimum, the painterly opening, that bearskinned rider bill mentions (who seems drafted in from another western; the dialogue about teeth was especially familiar to me), and those matching scenes of coffins shipped off by train, a few quick cuts to seal them in the darkness before flooding the screen with prairie light.

And it definitely sounded like Simmons to me.

Bruce Reid

I should have put "crowd-pleasing" where I wrote "legendary," which would have actually indicated the irony I was going for.

Will S

Thanks, bill, I missed the reference entirely.

As to this film's place in the Coens' filmography, I'd pair it with both NCFOM and Miller's Crossing, and particularly the latter. That film's mannered period detail, overtly belletristic dialogue, and strange commitment to a kind of sincerity and reverence were in full force here.

I really liked Glenn's True Grit review (wish it were longer, actually--do online publications like this have strict length restrictions?), and think the specific approach to "space, distance and time" he identifies connects up with NCFOM pretty nicely.

Tom Carson

@Bruce Reid: I should probably have added "along with bits and pieces along the way," certainly including the opening shot's transformation from Currier & Ives to Matthew Brady before our eyes and the rhyming coffins you mention. I also very much like Steinfeld's performance and think Brolin and Pepper are just right, but I gotta admit the bearskin man sequence didn't work for me. It looked like contrived oddity, as if the Coens had suddenly remembered, "Oh, right -- we're famous for this kind of stuff, so we'd better stick some in."

And bill: are you sure Mattie's behavior to Frank James at the end is supposed to tie back in with the Quantrill refs earlier? The other man is Cole Younger, also a Quantrill vet, and she's not uncivil to him. I thought she was just disgusted with Frank for not standing up in a lady's presence.


@Bruce - I probably should have clarified that the vibe wasn't coming so much from reviews, as comments spread throughout this here internet. People just seem to be in the habit of ragging on Hathaway's film, and Wayne and his Oscar. This has actually been going on for years, to the point where I felt like I (and my family) were alone in our love for it. There's a comment in this very thread that's a good example. And fine, that's his/their opinion, but I certainly don't get it, especially having read the book and seen both films.

Tom - No, I didn't mean to suggest that Mattie's behavior to Frank was based on her knowing anything about who he was. It's more his placement in the film, and how it relates to everything else (not to mention that Frank James was even worse than Mattie knows). It's a pretty vague thing, I admit, but I'm also positive that it was no accident on Portis's part.

Bruce Reid

bill: "I didn't mean to suggest that Mattie's behavior to Frank was based on her knowing anything about who he was."

It's left open in the movie, but she's certain of who he is in Portis. Cogburn spoke poorly of him ("Said [Jesse] was meaner than Frank. That is going some, if it be so.") while defending the honor of "Poor Cole," and after her insult the older Mattie clarifies her distaste and her continuing loyalty to Rooster: "They think now it was Frank James who shot the bank officer in Northfield. As far as I know that scoundrel never spent a night in jail, and there was Cole Younger locked away twenty-five years in the Minnesota pen."

Tom Carson

Well, that changes everything, especially if she got her info from Rooster. Mea culpa for not having reread the book in so long.


Hell, I read it this year and I didn't even remember that.

warren oates

Not much to add as Glenn's review is thorough and spot-on. I love Westerns and am generally in a state of high agitation every time somebody trots out a crappy new prestige Western like the YUMA remake or OPEN RANGE. So I'm overjoyed to see a film this good. I'll echo everyone who praises the Portis novel and go one further: The best way to "read" TRUE GRIT is to listen to the unabridged audiobook read by the novelist Donna Tartt. TRUE GRIT is her favorite book and she's perfect for the voice of Mattie Ross who narrates the entire tale.

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