December 28, 2010

Charles Portis and John Wayne

Charles Portis and John Wayne

They”€™re accompanied by LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a preening Texas Ranger who enjoys contrasting his service in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to Cogburn’s bushwhacking with Quantrill’s Raiders (alongside such future guerillas-turned-outlaws as the James brothers and Younger brothers”€”trivia relevant to the lovely epilogue). Even the cloth-headed villain Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) has his own orotund style.

To more easily comprehend all these ornate idiolects, you could wait until True Grit comes out on DVD and watch it with the captions on. But it’s a fine enough movie to see now in the theaters.

After a three-and-a-half-year layoff following 2004’s forgettable The Ladykillers, the Coens have been releasing a movie per year. No Country for Old Men deservedly won 2007’s Best Picture. Burn After Reading was a misfire, but A Serious Man was a second-tier Best Picture nominee last year. Although not quite a Best Picture, True Grit deserves a nomination.

That’s a formidable four-year run for the Coens, even taking into account that there are two of them. Still, the shot-by-shot perfection of much of No Country might not be achievable again at this pace.

The new True Grit doesn”€™t get as many laughs in the theater as the genial 1969 version, which was powered by Wayne’s happy-to-be-alive status as America’s most famous lung-cancer survivor. Shortly after the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report on Smoking, Wayne, a six-pack-a-day man, had to have his left lung and four ribs cut out. To everyone’s surprise (except his own) at a time when the word “€œcancer”€ was assumed to be a death sentence, Wayne, although diminished, was ready for fun on True Grit.

Bridges, who received his own de facto Career Achievement Oscar last year for playing a drunken country singer in Crazy Heart, does his usual competent, creative job. Still, The Dude doesn”€™t quite have The Duke’s screen presence. For a force of nature large enough to fill the legendary boots of the “€œone-eyed fat man,”€ the Coens might have turned instead to Bridges’s co-star in The Big Lebowski, Walter Sobchak himself, John Goodman.


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