Cogburn vs. Cogburn

Let me start out by saying these are both great movies. I’ll probably end by saying something very similar, but bear with me.

When I heard the Coen Bros. were remaking True Grit, I wasn’t overly excited. The John Wayne version has a special place in my heart. I’ve fond memories of watching it dozens of times with my dad and grandfather when I was about the same age my son is now. Maybe just a little older. Huge John Wayne fans, we watched many of his films together over the years, as Wayne’s work was one of the few things we could all agree on. I didn’t see how anyone – even the immensely talented Coens – could improve on a film I thought was pretty damn great.

I watched these films almost back-to-back, as I couldn’t be certain my memory would hold up well enough for a review. I started with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld and then followed with John Wayne and Kim Darby. It’s hard for me to do a straight review of either film without overly comparing it to the other. Instead, I’m going to look at various characters and features common to both films and write about each.

Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn: John Wayne is awesome. This is indisputable. He’s a bit grayer and a bit heavier in 1969’s True Grit. He might be past his prime, but it’s hard to say he’s completely gone to seed. Not so with Jeff Bridges and the way he plays Cogburn. At times, Bridges seems like he should be close to death. Bridges is more believable as a drunk. Wayne is more believable as a man who could track you for days and then shoot you dead in seconds. Bridges was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor this role, but Wanye was the one who took home the Oscar for it. I’m going to have to agree with the Academy.

I never shot nobody I didn’t have to.

Advantage: 1969

Mattie Ross: Hailee Steinfeld acts the pants off Kim Darby. No offense to Ms. Darby, but damn. Steinfeld gives a terrific performance. Her Ross is intelligent with a quick tongue. It helps that Steinfeld is closer to the age of the 14-year old she is trying to portray. Darby was in her early twenties in 1969 and it shows. Darby also have a certain softness to her. I like my Mattie Ross as hard-edged as possible.

I do not care a thing about guns, if I did, I would have one that worked.

Advantage: 2010

Texas Ranger LaBoeuf: This is a tough one and I’m probably going to make an unpopular call here. Matt Damon’s LeBoeuf is great, there’s no doubt. But I think I’m going to give Glen Campbell the edge. I’ve never read the book, so I’m not sure how LeBoeuf is written. Damon’s LeBoeuf comes off as more of an outside bumbler, while Campbell’s LeBoeuf is more part of the team. Campbell never goes off on his own and he never tries to stand up to the Ned Pepper gang alone. Plus, Campbell’s LeBoeuf also dies at the end, so let’s give the guy a little respect.

Texican… saved my neck twice. Once after he was dead.

Advantage: 1969

Ned Pepper: In 1969, this role was played by a young Robert Duvall. In 2010, it’s an almost unrecognizable Barry Pepper. I love Duvall, but I”m going to have to go with Pepper. He plays crazy damn well.

I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!

Advantage: 2010

The Plot: Many of the main plot points (and even some of the dialogue) is exactly the same between the two films. The 1969 version suffers from a bit too much exposition. We see the Ross homestead and meet mama and the other two kids. We see exactly how papa was shot. In 2010, more is left to the viewer’s imagination and that suits me just fine. In 1969 LeBoeuf bites it, but Mattie’s survives the snakebite unscathed. In 2010, LeBoeuf makes it through, but Mattie’s hand gets chopped. I was willing to give this to 2010 due to the tighter narrative and pacing, right up until the final scenes. I could buy it that Wayne is able to hoist an unconscious Mattie and carry her. Later, he steals a wagon to get her the medical attention she needs. Much more believable than carrying her for God knows how long as Bridges did. I also didn’t really care for the way that scene was filmed, using dissolves (I believe that’s the right film-making term, but I am by no means an expert). It just didn’t ring true with the cold, un-flourished way the rest of the movie was presented. It’s a shame, because it took me out of the story. I enjoyed the epilogue with Mattie as a grown woman, but I just couldn’t reconnect with the film.

Advantage: 1969

Everything Else: The soundtrack, scenery, costumes and most everything else are better in the 2010 version. Especially the soundtrack. Good Lord. I cannot tell you what the heck is going on with the soundtrack in the 1969 version. It must be experienced to be believed. The 2010 film has a much bleaker look to it, which is suitable to the material. In the 1969 film, many of the scenes occur during daylight hours. I assume that’s due to technical limitations when filming at night in 1969? I’m not sure. There are times when the actors definitely seem like they are safely inside on a sound stage.

Advantage: 2010

So there you go. It’s an even split. Both films are immensely enjoyable in their own right. And I recommend you watch them both!