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“True Grit,” Reviewed

“True Grit,” Reviewed (photo)

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It’s remarkable how different Joel and Ethan Coen’s “True Grit” is from the 1969 version starring John Wayne even though the two have all the same characters, nearly identical narratives, a lot of the same dialogue from Charles Portis’ original novel. The biggest difference is the Coens themselves and the attitude they bring to the material. The original “True Grit” is a sentimental story about the Old West and a girl who has lost her father and who, in her quest to avenge his death, finds a new one. It has dark moments and themes, but overall it’s a light-hearted film; at times it plays more like boozy frontier comedy than a Western revenge thriller. In contrast, the 2010 “True Grit” is a far bleaker and more severe portrait of life in the West, a place the Coens portray as sad and scary even as it is exciting and beautiful. Their version has comedy as well, but it’s much a much darker kind. To call it gallows humor would be entirely accurate, particularly since in an early scene the Coens turn a public hanging into a enormous punchline.

Though the commercials make it appear like Jeff Bridges is the film’s hero, that title actually belongs to a 14-year-old girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who hires Bridges’ cantankerous U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, to help her find her father’s killer. Later they’re joined by a egotistical Texas Ranger named La Boeuf, who is hunting the same man on a different charge. Cogburn and La Boeuf are reluctant to deal with the headstrong Mattie, and then even more reluctant to take her along into “dangerous Indian territory” when she demands to accompany them. But the charmingly bull-headed Mattie will not be swayed. By focusing on this unstoppable, empowered young woman and showing her to be the equal of her more seasoned gunfighter partners rather than a damsel in distress, “True Grit” plays sort of as a chick flick/Western hybrid, and a highly satisfying one at that.

One key element of that satisfaction — and another key difference between the “Grit”s — is casting. Kim Darby played Mattie in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 production, and though she had a charmingly warm relationship with Wayne, she was 22 when she played the part and looked it. Steinfeld, on the other hand, was 13 when she shot “True Grit,” and the tininess of her pre-teen frame enhances every scene; accentuating the humor when she bullies around businessmen who underestimate her intelligence and the danger when she’s held at gunpoint by outlaws. Damon, hilariously impressed with his own abilities as a Texas Ranger, is also a major upgrade over the original cast (sorry, Glen Campbell).

The highest compliment you can pay Bridges is that he draws no comparisons to Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn, a performance that earned the actor his only Academy Award. Bridges’ Cogburn is a totally different guy, more ornery, more surly, more in touch with his film’s dryer sense of humor. It’s also interesting to note how different Cogburn is from The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” the last character Bridges created with the Coens. Other than the fact that both men are introduced on or around the toilet, they have almost nothing in common. The fact that one man could so convincingly play two disparate men is yet another impressive feat by Bridges, one of our best actors.

The Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” may not be a better movie than the original but it’s certainly a better production. The cinematography by Roger Deakins, who shot the Coens’ “No Country For Old Men,” stunningly recreates the sepia-toned texture of old photographs and the production design by Jess Gonchor immerses us in one of the most believable Western settings I’ve ever seen onscreen. I liked the John Wayne “True Grit,” and I liked the Coens’ “True Grit” too. They’re similar in some ways, different in others, but both work on their own terms.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.