The word is out that the the Coen brothers, filmmakers of such wonderfully idiosyncratic movies such as Raising Arizona, Fargo, and No Country For Old Men, are in the process of remaking the classic western True Grit. It follows that I would like to be the first in line to remark, what in the world are those Hollywood crazies up to now? Hollywood has become simply devoid of new story lines and capacities to interpret fundamental underpinnings of the American experience or culture. A woe be gone TV show of the 1960’s such as Batman is certainly safely open to revisionist thought as many times as Hollywood desires, but when the perfect synthesis of story, principle, acting craft, and entertainment comes together in a movie such as True Grit, as it has on other classics of the Hollywood’s past, do we really need a remake, however clever, to distort our initial and unique memory of a masterpiece?
The great adventure movies of the past rested on the principle of the inevitable testing of the the hero’s capacity to face and ultimately in some eventually disclosed fashion, triumph over evil. The heroes were often recognizable as better, stronger, more disciplined, braver than ourselves, and we feared for them in their crisis and cheered for them in their ultimate climatic battle. These characters were perfected by John Wayne’s westerns and he became a symbol of the innate strength and inherent goodness of the American hero. In 1969, Hal Wallis and Henry Hathaway envisioned a new American hero captured from the pages of Charles Portis’s novel and brought to the screen by the western icon Wayne in a fashion his fans were not used to seeing, a fat, foul-mouthed drunkard with money as a motive and a willingness to kill in ambush. The beauty of the story is the 14 year old character played by Kim Darby who expects to see justice done for the murder of her father and sees through the innumerable flaws of Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn to the the primal heroic character within, emphasizing his capacity for deliverance in a trait she calls “true grit”. The movie has a spectacular set of supporting characters in addition to Darby including Robert Duvall, Glen Campbell, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, and Jeff Corey that bring the story the colorful layers that make it work so well, as well as the magnificent backdrops of the the Colorado San Juan Mountains around Ouray, Colorado.
The climatic scene thrusts us back to the classic moment of true heroism where the battle for the principle of right overwhelms all concerns for personal safety, ease, and odds of success. What is “true grit”, does it represent foolish sacrifice? Who benefits from the sacrifice from the hero, what do we learn about ourselves in the process in fashioning a plan of action for own own personal crises? Wayne answers the calling for all of us with the realization that whatever our personal flaws, we are all capable of recognizing right from wrong and living life more successfully, and more fulfillingly on principle and personal character. What ever the outcome, the journey of self realization proves most worthy when the principles are most clear. In the end, there are no elements of confusion to Rooster Cogburn’s stand.
To paraphase Robert Duvall…..that’s bold thoughts, from a one-eyed fat man.