Director: Henry Hathaway
Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper
Academy Awards (1970):
Best Actor in a Leading role: John Wayne
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Music, Original Song: Don Black, Elmer Bernstein for the song ‘True Grit’
Mattie Ross (Darby) hires the aging, alcoholic US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) the man who killed her father. They are joined by La Boeuf (Campbell), a Texas Ranger searching for Chaney to collect a reward for previous crimes he had committed.
This film has a lot to offer. Though obviously a Western, there’s also the dynamics of the young Mattie seeking vengeance and in a way saving Rooster from completely destroying himself with his alcoholism. Kim Darby has moments of being young, idealistic, and at times naive, but her hard-headed grit help establish her as more than the stereotypical damsel who can’t take care of herself.
John Wayne’s performance in True Grit earned him his only Academy Award, though honestly it was long overdue. I can’t say I’ve watched a whole lot of Wayne’s films, but he particularly stands out here as a man who has certainly seen better days. Though he’s been roughed up in life, there’s a delicate balance in working with the young Mattie Ross where Cogburn is both the stubborn S.O.B. everyone knows, but also having a heart in caring for Mattie. His chemistry both with Darby and Campbell’s La Bouef make for a number of great one-liners, but also gives the story a genuine feel.
Though I’ve seen this film before, I didn’t really remember Robert Duvall’s role as Ned Pepper. He was hard-nosed enough to be believable as a villain, but at the same time somewhat disinterested in Chaney’s troubles. Though Chaney was a member of his gang, Pepper was more concerned with keeping himself out of trouble with the law. Duvall does this convincingly, competent enough to hold his own, but in the end more worried about saving his own skin than Chaney’s.
Though True Grit benefits form strong lead and supporting performances, there are a couple of elemental things that bugged me. Nothing major, but still a little bothersome. One was Kim Darby’s age. I just couldn’t believe her as a 14-year-old. I realize using older actors and actresses is common, the writers could have said she was older without losing anything story-wise with it. The other is more of a pitfall in older war and western movies. The deaths, shootings, and fighting weren’t believable. The worst of this was when Chaney hit La Boeuf with a rock. I seriously doubt that a blow like that could kill someone, and Campbell’s performance as a mortally wounded man just didn’t work for me.
Overall I thought this film was great, I want to make that clear in light of my minor complaints.
True Grit is one of those films that should not be re-made. Period. Especially by someone like the Coen Brothers. They’ve proven that they can come up with original material, so why did they have to remake a classic. As much as I like Jeff Bridges, I must say I was disappointed when I found out he was going to play Rooster Cogburn. Some characters should be associated with one and only one actor. Rooster Cogburn is one of those.
True Grit is an entertaining Western that has great chemistry between the lead performers, enough smart alack quips to be funny, and lovingly caring enough to bring balance. John Wayne does great in this movie, and deserved the Academy Award he received for his performance. I could revisit this film from time to time, it’s just that good.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.