Saturday, February 22, 2020
How The West Was Won-The Coen Brothers Remake Of “True Grit” (2010)-A Film Review
How The West Was Won-The Coen Brothers Remake Of “True Grit” (2010)-A Film Review
By Sandy Salmon
[As of December 1, 2017 under the new regime of Greg Green, formerly of the on-line American Film Gazette website, brought in to shake things up here a bit after a vote of no confidence in the previous site administrator Allan Jackman (using the moniker Peter Paul Markin in honor of fallen comrade from high school days) some organizational norms have changed. That vote was taken among all the writers at the request of some of the younger writers abetted by one key older writer, Sam Lowell, and in the aftermath the habit of previous site manager of assigning writers to specific topics like film, books, political commentary, and culture is over. Also over is the designation of writers in this space, young or old, by job title like senior or associate. After a short-lived experiment designating everybody as “writer” seemingly in emulation of the French Revolution’s “citizen” or the Bolshevik Revolution’s “comrade” all posts will be “signed” with given names only. The Editorial Board]
True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, Haillee Steinfeld as Mattie, Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, from the novel by Charles Portis, directed and produced by the Coen Brothers as a remake of the 1969 version of the film which starred John Wayne, 2010
[Apparently the fall-out from the change of leadership of this site from the now seemingly disgraced and exiled Allan Jackson out to the wilds of Utah where he is reportedly by rumor said to be hustling copy for the Mormons although that sounds improbable on its face since he went out of his way to skewer the most well-known Mormon Mitt Romney for disowning his great grandfather’s astounding feat of juggling five wives at one time back in the day Allan Jackson to Greg Green brought in from a similar position that he held at American Film Gazette is not over. The basic issue which the reader should know about was Jackson’s heavy-handed manner of assigning projects tilted heavily toward the turbulent times of the 1960s when he and a number of the older writers including a few he had known since high school had come of age. That emphasis despite the well-known proposition stated in the masthead that the whole of American history (albeit from a decidedly leftist perspective), culture, society, mores and all were within its purview. He had brought in a slew of younger writers, not kids out of journalism school or English dissertations but younger.
They, according to younger writer and “Young Turks” leader Lance Lawrence, were to broaden the outlook, widen the time frame and range of subjects. Instead Allan used them as “cannon fodder” (Eliot Francis’ term) for a continued expansion of that 1960s perspective. The whole thing came to a head this past summer when he unilaterally decided that everything of importance was to be thrown through the prism of the Summer of Love, 1967 which was being commemorated mainly in the Bay Area on its 50th anniversary. The younger writers balked sensing that this was merely the first shot in another total immersion in various 50th anniversary commemorations to come over the next few years. In a heated debate and contentious procedure in early fall the younger writers aided by the decisive vote of Sam Lowell one of Allan’s old high school friends who saw the writing on the wall he received a vote of no confidence.
Subsequently Jackson announced his retirement through a third party to the assembled audience. That so-called retirement versus what has been whispered about that he had been “purged” never to be heard from again like in the time of Stalin in Russia or among New Left fanatics in late 1960s radical circles seeking purity is what the fall-out is all about. Nobody quite has the whole story, or at least I have not heard anything that sounds like the whole story but younger writer Brad Fox in a recent review of Goya’s Ghosts went way out of his way to inform the reading public that something closer to being purged had been the previously missing Jackson’s fate. And Brad would know since he owes his job to his father’s friendship with Allan going back to their high school days.
Here is some of what Brad mentioned with a little comment by me in places as we try to consolidate the new regime and provide a wider perspective for the reader to imbibe.
Brad thought it ironic, and I do too, that one of the first assignments that our new site administrator Greg Green has handed out, handed out to him especially knowing his father relationship with Allan, Goya’s Ghosts, dealt with the turmoil of the French Revolution through the prism of the Spanish occupation in Napoleon’s time by French troops aided by a bureaucracy of both imported French bureaucrats and Spaniards looking for the main chance. What Brad called guys who change their allegiances as easily as their shirts.
Sometimes apparently, and this may have been Greg Green’s point in assigning the review life mirrors art. The staff at American Left History were, are as ardent as any Bolshevik was in his or her time to draw whatever lessons they can from the experiences of the French Revolution. Including many a hot “debate” over whiskeys at Jimmy Jake’s Tavern near the Seaport in Boston.
Seemingly, at least to Brad and I buy some of his argument since I do believe that Green was trying to promote a literary cautionary tale in the guises of a harmless hapless film review a parallel example existed between rabid Inquisitor turned French Revolution devotee Lorenzo’s topsy-turvy career and fate and that of Jackson. I have already mentioned the main reason given but it bears repeating was Allan’s obsessive tilting of the coverage of subjects in this space toward events from the turbulent 1960s when most of the older writers came of age exemplified by the over-the-top coverage of the Summer of Love, 1967 he ordered the writers, young and old, familiar with the period or not to cover. There has been, and here the parallel with Francisco who would go to his execution under the Inquisition once the French were defeated and swept out of Spain by the British with the aid of Spanish guerillas, a persistent rumor that Allan was purged and that the retirement ploy was just that a cover for the more aggressive removal mainly through the efforts of the younger writers. On the heels of what Brad has said I will try to track this down as I get more information. Information that I believe will implicate Allan’s his old friend Sam Lowell who may have been used by the younger writers as a stalking horse once they knew he was anxious to show his old time “revolutionary turn the world upside down” credentials or maybe the mastermind behind a plan to ease Allan out for other reasons. For now if you heard that one Allan Jackson has fallen under the wheels of a modern day Inquisition don’t be surprised. Don’t be surprised at all.]
Here is the real deal though:
For those more interested in old time Old West, Old Revisionist West than the internal struggle for a new direction at this site you are now home. Old Revisionist West meaning not the stuff that guys and gals like many of the older writers and me who grew in the 1950s had to swallow on television where the guys in white hats were pure good and fast on the trigger if they needed to be and black hats signifying pure evil and somehow very bad trigger action which makes one wonder today how they survived to be bad boys, but the dirt under the fingernails, didn’t wash for a week, put that trigger quick and ask questions later. For that desire here is a film, a remake of a classic Old West western, True Grit which won John Wayne an Oscar for his performance as lead character Rooster Cogburn by the bloody thirsty Coen Brothers last seen in this space as the producers of the remake of the bloody 1955 British film The Lady Killers where an old widowed woman held off a horde of ruffians ready to do her in praise the Lord.
Recently Sam Lowell who use to do the film reviews here all by his lonesome before he retired and persuaded me to take over before I retire made some commentary about the 1961 film The Misfits, the film adaptation of playwright Arthur Miller’s story. He mentioned that the characters in that film, male and female alike, born in the West, born in the saddle really, or transported from other parts, were just then at the crossroads where the Old West and its individualistic values was fast fading in the modern industrial skyline. That the strip malls, suburban ranches, golf courses, and tourist traps were heading west. That is not the case in True Grit. Here we have all the bloodshed, the fast triggers, the fatal triggers the lawlessness needing to be tamed, the lost boys, the losers in the Civil War, the raw emotions and rawer whisky that made up a big part of the lifeblood of the Old West, the West that those who could not for one reason or another make it in the East headed for to start anew-or keep on doing the same thing in new quarters.
In a funny way, just like the plotlines from Zane Grey on, this one is simplicity itself “the age of vengeance is mine saith the Lord. Young Mattie, all of 14, played by Hailee Steinfeld, feisty as hell even if only 14, is out to avenge the death of her father by a no account bastard who just shot him down in cold blood named Tom Clancy. Little did he know his days were numbered with Mattie on the case no matter that he headed out to desolate Indian country (Native American or indigenous peoples now).
But even a feisty precocious 14 year old needs some help against a bad man desperado and so she hires for a bounty a U.S. Marshall to bring old Tom in to face justice, to face the big step-off which Mattie makes very plain is her goal-no anti-death penalty advocate she. So she hires the toughest of them all, the one with, hey, true grit, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn played by Jeff Bridges like he was born for the role, and maybe he was. Mattie had a choice, could have and maybe should have picked Texas Ranger LaBouef, played by Matt Damon, who had been after bandito Clancy for crimes in Texas which would also require a hangman’s noose. But she took Rooster instead.
Eventually after much banter they, all three, head out to that Indian country (remember think Native American) and before long all kind of calumny, false leads, a few confrontations and the like impede their progress. Also some internal bickering which would lead that LaBoeuf to head out on his own periodically. Not to worry though after a few rounds of rooty-toot-toot that Tom Clancy is gone to the great beyond-no one to mourn him. Along the way though Mattie and the Rooster bond, bond enough that when that Rooster went to his own great beyond he was buried in Mattie’s family plot. Yeah, wasn’t that a time boys, wasn’t that a time.