For those of you who are looking forward to a review of the new Cohen Brothers collaboration, True Grit, that opened in theaters yesterday, I am sad to report that you just might be waiting a bit longer. With Oscar buzz swarming around the film, people are calling it one of the must see movies this holiday season. Funny how that works out, because when the film was first announced people couldn’t loathe the idea any more. There are rules in Hollywood, and sometimes those rules interfere with one another. One of those rules is everything deserves a sequel or reboot. The second rule is don’t anger “The Duke.”
John Wayne, better known to Hollywood as “The Duke” mad a Hollywood career making movies. Known for his rough and tough swagger, The Duke is probably the most recognizable person in American westerns to date, and probably of all time. His no nonsense delivery and approach to the movies made him an instant star that many have tried to emulate and few will ever achieve. It was in 1969 that Wayne found himself racking up Oscar buzz for a film called True Grit, in which he played a rough around the edges US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn. Cogburn has a reputation of being a sour ol’ man who always gets his man, and finds himself under the employment of a strong willed, sassy, 16 year old girl who is seeking to avenge her father’s death. Despite Wayne’s illustrious career on the silver screen, True Grit may be the film he is most remembered for and rightfully so. After all it did win him an Oscar.
True Grit has all the makings of a “wonder years” of Hollywood type film. Wayne swaggers his way on screen and reads off his lines with the acting prowess that made him the acting juggernaut that he once was. Wayne has a certain charsima that makes you want to love the actor, and want more of him on screen. Oddly enough though, The Duke would be like a fish out of water in modern day Hollywood. Something about Wayne defines an era, but at the same time he’d stick out like a sore thumb now days. Now, I’m not saying he’s the Paul Walker or Channing Tatum of cinema, but I just don’t feel as though the modern day generation would gravitate around the man if he was making movies in this millennium. That shouldn’t come as that much of a surpise. After all- wasn’t it box office star Will Smith that ushered us into the “Willennium” in the late 90’s? As cool of a cat as The Duke is, he can’t get jiggy with the Fresh Prince can he?
Perhaps what stands out the most to me about True Grit is Kim Darby, the actress who plays Maddie Ross. Ross is the 16 year old girl that tags along with Rooster seeking revenge. No matter how much you can love a free spirited, strong willed girl, Maddie Ross is the type of character you just couldn’t help but want to punch in the nose. Mind you, I’ve never wanted, or even felt the need to punch a girl; but there were those moments I had thought maybe- just maybe- it wouldn’t be so bad if The Duke popped her in the nose. I’m sure Kim Darby was told to play Maddie with such force, after all it’s hard to believe anyone like Rooster would give her the time of day otherwise. None the less it was very hard to stay in the film when all you kept thinking about was how annoying that girl was. It’s kind of like watching a Kathryn Hiegl film; no matter how much fun you are having with any of her mindless flicks, you still can’t stop thinking about how much she annoys you. Yeah—annoys me…that was the word I was looking for. I’ll save my crass Kathryn Heigl words for another day.
It turns out that in real life, real life Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) just might have had half a mind to do just that to his co-star Kim Darby. Wayne initially wanted his daughter in the role, but the studios eventually settled on Darby. Wayne didn’t hide the fact on set that he hated working with the young actress, and the two rarely spoke to each other on set. Wayne felt as though she was an unprofessional actress and was later on quoted saying, “Talk about having no chemistry with your leading lady! She was the goddamn lousiest actress I ever worked with.”
The Duke’s sour attitude didn’t stop at Darby. He also had little time for Robert Duvall, who took on the role of outlaw Ned Pepper. Duvall, who even in 1969 was sporting less hair than he probably preferred at that age, proves to be a worthy advesary to Rooster Cogburn in the film. Duvall’s straight method acting counter’s Wayne’s hammed up, over the top performance and in many ways comes out to being a more genuine character for the little screen time he has. Off camera, Rooster and Pepper were also fixin’ for a fight as Wayne made it perfectly clear that he wasn’t pleased with Duvall’s methods. In fact, The Duke threatened to punch out Duvall if he argued with the director on set.
As I look back on True Grit, it’s a film that I had a lot of fun with, but Wayne is way over the top and Darby irritated me beyond all belief. Despite that being a huge thing to over come, the film is a classic that is worth checking out. In the film Maddie Ross keeps saying she is looking for a man with “True Grit” to avenge her father. On screen “True Grit” is personified in Rooster Cogburn. Off screen, when the camera’s weren’t rolling it sounds like “True Grit” was simply not getting punched out by a cranky old Duke.
As the holidays roll around, I’m kind of excited to see what the Cohens have done with True Grit. They’ve taken a classic film and gave it a darker twist. I see trailers with Jeff “The Dude” Bridges and can’t wait to see his version of Cogburn on screen. The original True Grit is a classic, but this is one “remake” that just might have the grit to rival it’s predecessor.