Forgive me, Laura. Despite your devotion to him, I was never a John Wayne fan, likely predicated on my less-than-passing interest in Westerns – Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven notwithstanding. Given my predisposition, I never watched the original True Grit. I never read Charles Portis’s fine novel either, despite its setting in your Choctaw Nation. Again, forgive me.
When the Coen brothers took up the project, there came some bandied discussion and more than a single request for a used copy of the book. At last, I took it upon myself to order in a couple of new copies when the requests continued. Surprisingly enough, they sold – even in the confines of a used bookstore. When I reordered, I decided to turn a new copy into a used one, and took it home to read.
Although that has been some months ago, it is still the best good book I have read lately. Oh, that is not exactly true. I have read several good books since then; True Grit is the best great book I have read lately.
And now, I’ve had a chance to see the Coen film.
It is another of those impossible-to-be-impartial dilemmas, as I have a fondness for the movies of the slightly skewed Coen boys, and I have already professed my deep admiration for the writing of our near-local Mr. Portis. Stories that feature neighborhood geography and personalities also draw me in without fail. I have laid eyes on the general store of Mr. McAlester and written of the town that is his legacy. I am vested in the lore and terrain and imagine a stake in its representation.
That is another reason I avoided John Wayne’s version of the tale. I was certain it would not pass muster in my perspective.
Jeff Bridges I like. Matt Damon, too. And Josh Brolin. The newcomer playing the part of the orphaned Mattie is easily adopted as family with her eloquent Ozark euphemisms and willful determination. I didn’t avoid True Gritcome-lately all this time on their accounts. I just now got around to it.
In all likelihood even Mr. Portis would allow that there is not so much substance as story in True Grit. It is a revenge tale disguised as a quest. The beauty is in the telling.
Even the most diehard fans of the Coen brothers would probably allow that the films share a teensy bit of unevenness, and even the best of the movie-lot have moments between opening and closing credits that tend to wobble. There are not too many in True Grit. Those slight irregularities cannot be blamed on the actor’s performances or the fine cinematography. The acting is excellent and the visual elements are beautiful, if primitive. If I knew more about the wheels and sprockets of filmmaking I could blame the editor or the gaffer or such.
As it turns out, True Grit by the Coen brothers is one of those rare films that can be enjoyed without reservation even after having read the book, managing to stay true to the superior work of Mr. Portis while filling in with exacting color the edges of our reading imagination.