Sunday, June 12, 2011

From the Vault: True Grit (1969) Review

With the new True Grit out on DVD, I thought it would be a great time to revisit the 1969 classic. Here is my review of the film, which I posted over four years ago, when the new special edition DVD came out. Check out my review and the original film before watching the new one from the Coen Brothers.

John Wayne is perhaps one of the biggest movie stars to ever grace the silver screen. While he's never been a method actor like Marlon Brando, he's always been a lot of fun to watch. He's always had a certain presence about him. When John Wayne talked, people would listen. If you're a wrestling fan, I can best compare John Wayne to Hulk Hogan. They were both larger than life figures. With John Wayne, you couldn't help but be drawn to him. He was such a commanding figure on screen. He stood for everything that was pure and right in the world. Because of this, people still talk about John Wayne to this day. It's been over 25 years since his death, but he still holds a place in our hearts. It's hard to forget all the classic John Wayne films and performances. I think we all have a personal favorite performance by Mr. Wayne.

My personal favorite is 1956's The Searchers, which was directed by John Ford. John Ford brought out the best in John Wayne. John Ford used to ridicule John Wayne to the point of being cruel. Because of this, it made John Wayne a better actor. He didn't want to let John Ford down in any way. John Wayne never really got any credit for his acting. He was never a showy actor or very loud in his performances. He would get across so much emotion and pain with his face. John Wayne used to say: "I don't act, I react." John Wayne has also been accused of portraying the same character in every film. Well, he broke out of that mold with his performance in True Grit, which helped him win his very first Oscar. While it's not his greatest performance, it's entertaining to see John Wayne portray such an outlandish character. It's a performance to remember for John Wayne in True Grit, which was released in 1969. The same year that Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Our film opens up following Mattie Ross, who is played by Kim Darby. She's about to send her father off with some money to buy some ponies. He then plans to sell them in return. On his way to buying the ponies, he's killed by a drunk at a local bar. He was trying to help out the drunk, but his help was met with a gun shot. Following this, Mattie goes on a mission to track down the man who killed her father. She's upset with the lack of help and support from the local police. They are basically turning the other cheek to her situation. Mattie is a head-strong girl who won't take no for an answer. She won't settle for anything less than the death of the man who killed her father. Because of this, she wants to find the best man that money can buy. She wants a man with has "grit." She wants a man who will get the job done. As we all know, you need to hire John Wayne to do the job. He won't rest until he's done the job. The only problem is that John Wayne is not the John Wayne of old. He's Rooster Cogburn.

He's overweight, drunk, and loud. Not only that, he shoots his pistol a lot. He's killed over 23 men during his time as a Marshall. When he's not killing people, he lives with a man named Chen Lee and a cat. Rooster is one lonely man. At first, he wants nothing to do with little Mattie. He finally caves in when she offers him a hefty sum of cash to take out the man who killed her father. The only catch is that she wants to come along with him on his journey. She wants to make sure that the man is dead. We are also introduced to La Boeuf, who is played by a very young Glen Campbell. He also wants to join their twosome to make it a threesome. He's a young ranger who appears to be nothing but trouble. He's always getting in the face of Mattie and Rooster. He thinks he has the answers to all their problems on this journey. Along the way, we also meet a lot of familiar faces in True Grit. A very young Dennis Hopper shows up as Moon. We also meet Robert Duvall as a crusty villain.

True Grit is wise in spending almost forty-five minutes with the characters before it sends them off on their journey. You really get to see them in their natural environment. You understand what makes them tick and who they are. The writing is very strong in the scenes involving Darby and Wayne. Darby really lets John Wayne have it. It's refreshing to see a strong female character opposite of John Wayne. We haven't seen a strong female opposite of John Wayne since Maureen O'Hara. It's been a long time to say the least. While True Grit is a hardcore Western, it also has a lot of heart behind it. John Wayne is hysterical as Rooster Cogburn. He really chews up the scenery and has a lot of fun with this character. It's quite comical to see John Wayne with such a ridiculous eye patch. You really get the sense that John Wayne is having a lot of fun with this character. We are also having a lot of fun watching him as this character. Kim Darby more than holds her own in scenes with John Wayne. Their scenes have a lot of humor and truth behind them.

The major problem with True Grit is the last forty minutes of the film. The film really goes on automatic pilot and gives a lazy ending. I wish the film had the nerve to end the way that it started. The film really turns into your typical Western with tons of gun shots and escapes. I felt like the film really gave up at the end. The film also could have benefited from about a twenty-five minute cut. The film runs at over two hours. It's just way too long for a film like this. The film should run at about one-hundred minutes. With all that said, John Wayne carries the film with his outrageous performance. It's John Wayne like you have never seen him before. It just proves once again that the Academy got it wrong. John Wayne should have won for The Searchers or Sands of Iwo Jima. True Grit is their way of making it up to Mr. Wayne. It's the same with Morgan Freeman and Million Dollar Baby. He should have won for The Shawshank Redemption. He also should have won for Driving Miss Daisy. I'm probably just nitpicking here. In the end, True Grit will probably go down in the record books as John Wayne's most unusual performance.

Grade: B+

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