When I heard Hollywood had opted to do a remake of the 1969 classic, True Grit, my first thought was: blasphemy. The original film is among John Wayne’s finest, and in fact it’s the only one of the Duke’s many (we’re talking hundreds) films to win him an Oscar for Best Actor. Why risk a do-over when the original remains a classic? After I thought about it, however, I wasn’t surprised. Hollywood has been hooked on sequels and remakes for decades. It saves them the trouble of having to produce new stories and pay good writers to write them.
I felt quite certain the new True Grit would be a tired, sorry affair when compared to the original, so when my husband suggested we make it our holiday movie (it’s our family tradition to attend a movie on Christmas day), I was shell shocked. Jody rarely wants to see a specific movie however, so along with our girls and their guys, we agreed. Oh sure, I’d read the reviews praising the film by this point, but so what? Reviews are always a mixed bag, and often times the films with the highest praise are so boring I fall asleep in the middle.
As we sat around chatting about this on Christmas Eve, Carrie suggested we watch the original True Grit so we compare the films fairly. Amazingly, I found a copy in our archived VHS collection. Even more amazingly, the VCR still worked! The film remains as strong as I remembered. Not my favorite movie for sure, or even my favorite western, but it’s still a very good film with a wonderful performance by Wayne. I felt even more confident that my initial doubts about the remake would prove on the money.
Good thing I didn’t place any bets. Two weeks after seeing the Coen Brothers remake, I remain impressed by their spectacular film, especially the performances of Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and wonderful newcomer Hailee Stanfield as the spunky14-year-old narrator, Mattie Ross. Bridges is perfect as the drunken marshal, and I will be very surprised if he doesn’t at least get nominated for Best Actor. Likewise, Stanfield is marvelous, easily surpassing her predecessor, Kim Darby. For the most part, the remake remains true to the original story line. There are some differences, however, enough to make this version unique. Matt Damon plays a very different type of Texas Ranger than Glen Campbell did in the original film. And viewers are treated to an epilogue that really adds to the story.
As writers, we’ve all heard (or read) the claim that only a finite number of basic plots or storylines exist—the number usually falls between 7 and 12—thus it’s up to us to come up with a fresh way of telling them. In other words, it’s our job to make the old new again. In the case of the writers involved with True Grit, I have two words for you: mission accomplished.