True Grits

I saw True Grit this weekend and wasn’t disappointed. I also read Charles Portis’s book when it came out back in 1968 (and wasn’t disappointed). And the 1969 movie (ditto).
I loved the book; it was a great Western yarn à la Lonesome Dove, but with Portis’s sardonic journalistic wit underneath everything. Portis is said to have once declared that he “could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny.”

I still remember being captivated by the book’s contraction-less dialogue. It created a sort of prosaic ambience of the Old West.  In the real Old West, evidently they did use contractions more often, but Portis’s diction recreated a virtual, unique — and successful — authenticity.

Interestingly, in the 1969 movie, John Wayne and Kim Darby handled the no-contraction dialogue most comfortably, while Glen Campbell (who otherwise was dorkily perfect for his role) sounded a little more awkward — and in the current movie, their counterparts, Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, also naturalize their lines a little better than Matt Damon. But don’t get me wrong — Damon does an exceptional job in this role, maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, and that’s saying something. He gives a nuanced, emotionally committed depth to his Texas Ranger that is at times very moving. The scene in which he bids “a-dee-ose” to a tearful Hailee when he gives up the chase is unforgettable.

The inimitable Coen brothers do their usual directing magic in this film, coaxing remarkable performances out of even the most minor actors. But the story line in the original film ran more naturally.  The Coens’ plot sequence seems almost like an abridgement.

I want to confirm that feeling by revisiting the 1969 film, but not surprisingly, in my Netflix queue it says “Very Long Wait.” In the meantime, I might watch A Serious Man again — one of my favorite Coen brothers films ever.

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