'True Grit' Gallops in the Tradition of John Wayne

January 3, 2011
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to Newsmax.com

The classic Western rides again in the form of the movie “True Grit.” Though the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, couldn’t help putting their dark-humored stamp on the flick, their trademark touch is gentle, and respect is shown for the original movie version and its larger-than-life star, John Wayne.

The Coens had quite the cinematic challenge. Some may recall that during his career Wayne was nominated for three Academy Awards, but the legend only took the trophy one time, and that was for Best Actor in the original “True Grit” film.

While Wayne’s cowboy boots are nearly impossible to fill, Jeff Bridges uses his own leathery charm to create a unique variation of the original character.

Because the Coen brothers adapted the movie from the original book, the spotlight of the film does not rest solely on the Wayne-Bridges character but also on that of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who narrates her plan to avenge the murder of her father.

With a roster of characters as rough and grizzled as an old saddle, the movie is jam-packed with entertainment while still managing to maintain the tried and true elements of honor and justice. “True Grit” is, at its heart, a parable about revenge and retribution. Although the Coens are famous for blurring the moral lines, this film has a message that Duke might very well applaud.

There’s something to be said, too, about the panoramic vistas that Westerns provide for a filmmaker’s indulgence.

The Coens’ style hearkens back to some of the qualities associated with Golden Age Westerns like those directed by John Ford and Howard Hawks, whose favorite leading man just happened to be Wayne.

Wayne’s last film, “The Shootist” (1976), had the iconic actor wielding his clout. Wayne refused to allow his onscreen character to do the unthinkable — shoot a character in the back — and insisted that the original script be rewritten.

“Change it,” Wayne ordered.

“I've made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back,” the cowboy said.