Only one letter’s not the same. But it makes all the difference in the world.
Leave out the TV stuff, and Jeff Bridges has been making major motion pictures for forty years, starting with The Last Picture Show (1971). Leave out the “B” western nonsense, and the late John Wayne made major motion pictures for thirty-seven years, starting with Stagecoach (1939).
Who’da thunk it? Jeff Bridges has been working in big-time movies longer than John Wayne did. The question is, he asks rhetorically because the answer is obvious, which one has left the greater impact?
I know. The Big Lebowski. But what else? And isn’t The Big Lebowski’s impact more in the writing? Those memorable lines, none of which I can remember, but other people can, and that’s good enough for me?
I mean, how hard is it to play “laid back”? You just stay up all night, and come to shooting tired.
“He’s really laid back today.”
“Yeah, and he’s yawning a lot too.”
Why am I putting these two movie actors in juxtaposition? Duh. They both played “Rooster Cogburn” in True Grit, “The Duke” in 1969, “The Dude” in 2010.
Let me say first that neither True Grit would rank among my top ten favorite westerns, my Top Ten being Red River, High Noon, Shane, Unforgiven, The Westerner, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Ride The High Country, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Dodge City and Stagecoach, not necessarily in that order, after the first three.
Both Grits are decent enough. The story’s a little sappy – the “team-up” tale of a feisty teenaged girl and a crusty old man, in search of justice and they bond long the way. The new version seems to be prettier. More autumnal, as I recall. But you don’t remake a movie for the leaves.
The ending’s different in the new version. The first version’s ending is more sentimental, with “The Duke” barking, “Well, come see a fat old man (as the girl calls him) sometime!”, then jumping his horse over a three-rail fence (John Wayne galloping towards the fence, a stunt-man jumping over it in long-shot, and John Wayne landing on the other side), whereas in the new version, when she goes to visit him, he’s already dead. The first version seems more fun. If you prefer “upbeat” over dead.
Also, apparently more faithful to the book, in the new version, the feisty teenaged girl, now a grown woman, has been left with one arm. Call me crazy, but does that seem like a reason to remake an entire movie?
“We’re being more truthful this time. ‘Two arms’ was just wrong.”
The rest of the movie’s the same. All the original’s “set piece” scenes are there, with, it feels like, the same dialogue. To be honest, it felt a little peculiar. It’s like I had seen the original production on Broadway, and I’m now in the presence of a slightly inferior touring company. Same script, different actors. They’re all okay – especially the teenaged girl – but I’ve seen this already.
Why “better”? Because the first True Grit had a compelling reason to exist, and this one doesn’t.
What was that reason?
The first True Grit was assembled as a “Victory Lap” for an iconic western movie legend It’s the perfect send-off. The tough cowpoke, noticeably in decline, but still able to stuff the reins in his mouth, and ride one last time, guns ablazin’, against four of the orneriest owlhoots in the West. There’s resonance there. And emotion. It’s “The Duke’s” last showdown. And he wins the day!
And he wins an Oscar too!
(By rights, “The Duke” should have retired right then and there, returning his horse to the wrangler, turning to the cast and crew, and saying, “Well, folks, it’s been fun”, and ambling off into the sunset. Unfortunately, actors don’t know when to leave, so he made a few more pictures, including a grim finale called The Shootist – an actor with cancer playing a gunfighter with cancer. That was too real for me. I’d have preferred if he’d gone out jumping the fence.)
Jeff Bridges is not an iconic movie legend; he’s a capable movie actor. Though, to me, he’s more believable laid back than growling and crusty, which, I have a feeling in real life, he isn’t. It’s almost like, lacking one of his own, he borrowed his growl from Dennis Quaid. Not necessarily with permission.
“Dennis? It’s Jeff. Could you teach me to growl, like you did in Wyatt Earp?”
“Hey, they gave you the part. Figure out your own damn growl.”
A “star turn” vehicle for a fading institution. That’s what made the original True Grit worth seeing.
Without that, it’s just skillful imposters, putting on a show.