Monday, January 10, 2011

True Grit, Coen Style

I find it interesting, John, that you frame so much of your movie watching in moral terms. A lot of the stuff you talked about didn't even occur to me when I was watching the remake yesterday afternoon. It may be that the original is so fresh in my mind that all I could do was compare and contrast between the two. Nevertheless, it's a perspective, so you all might find it interesting anyway.

Right off the bat, I was distracted by how different the two Matties were. I really enjoyed Kim Darby's performance, and Steinfeld's was so different it was really unsettling for at least the first half of the film. I liked how Darby's bravado barely masked her uncertainty and lack of experience, whereas Steinfeld's Mattie was much more reserved and less emotionally expressive. There were times when you could see a hint of the child in her eyes or her trembling lip, but it was a little too understated for me. I'm sure many would disagree with me, but we live in an age in film where the wisecracking, sharp-witted child is not an anomaly. We expect children in films to act and think older than they are. Darby's Mattie was in between being an adult and a child, just like a real 14-year-old. Don't get me wrong; I thought Steinfeld did a fine job, and I think I'll appreciate her interpretation better when I have a little more distance from the original.

The other performances were unique in their own rights, and really comparable to each other. Both characterizations of Rooster were entertaining and distinct. I couldn't say which La Boef I liked better. I preferred Damon's character personally, but, again, I thought both performances were solid.

As far as it being humorous, John, I wasn't surprised. The original was more so, and in that classic movie way. I think I've mentioned how older films seem to be able to span genres better than newer, more serious ones, and the original Grit is no exception. I think I was relieved that the remake kept some of the humorous elements of the original, as it was a part of what gave it that little extra zing (there's a better word than that, but it eludes me).

The dialogue was remarkably similar in both films, and if certain lines of the remake weren't verbatim from the original, they were very close. I also was distracted by the righteous commitment to refraining from contractions in both films, but more so in the remake (maybe because I gave the original that "old movie" leeway). Is that how they talked in the Old West? I'm not up on my grammar history. It's charming and unusual at first, but after two films of it, it does get to be a little obvious. Again, I think that  some distance between the films will ease some of that.

I'll definitely watch either again; I really couldn't tell you which is my favorite. They are both excellent films. I'll leave the moralizing to John for now, and chime in with my thoughts of interpretation when some other have had their say.


  1. I disagree with you about the girls' performances. This may be something a woman would be more sensitive to, but in the original, Mattie is shrill in a kind of stereotypical Taming-of-the-Shrew way. I think it made viewers more comfortable in its day, but I also thought it was an obvious reason to take on a remake. I was glad the Coens found a child who was the right age for the part who could bring so much authenticity and nuance to the role. I felt it was much more probable that this second version of Mattie could get grown men to do her will, and I think her motivations, in particular, were much clearer.

  2. I did feel like we missed out on something when we didn't get to see Steinfeld's Mattie at home with her family. I think that would have been a good opportunity for us to see her more in her element, less guarded. I don't think one Mattie was better than the other. They were both very distinct performances. Though, like I said, I'd like to read the book to see what both films are drawing from. I've got it on hold now.