The Coen Brothers Get Their Grit

true-gritThe Coen Brothers‘ career is nothing if not Quixotic. If anyone had mentioned getting them to do a remake of the Ealing comedy classic The Ladykillers, the response would have been “…” In fact, the response was “…” A similar reaction might await the news that they’re remaking a John Wayne film. Undaunted, the odd couple have made another odd pairing. Following their next adaptation, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, the writer-directors are tackling an adaptation of Charles Portis‘s True Grit, the novel which in 1969 was made into an Oscar-winning film with the Duke.

In the novel, the elderly Mattie Ross recalls how she chased down her father’s killers in Indian territory. Since she was only 14 at the time, the plucky Ross enlists the help of two lawmen–one of whom is the incorrigible Rooster Cogburn. The part of the grizzled, one-eyed drunkard won John Wayne one of those Best Actor Oscars that are usually awarded more for a lifetime’s service than an actual performance. But Wayne reprised the role in 1975’s Rooster Cogburn. He’s not the only Western legend to tackle the role. Warren Oates played Cogburn in TV’s True Grit: A Further Adventure.

On closer inspection, this ten-gallon hat starts seeming like a good fit for the Coens. The brothers have an affection for the Western evident in the landscapes of Blood Simple, Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Cogburn is also a larger-than-life grotesque who would make good company for any character John Goodman has played for them. And the theme of a young girl encountering the brutal violence of the frontier is a concern practically tailor-made for the Midwestern absurdists.

In his Believerprofile of Portis, Ed Park observes that the 1968 novel went firmly against the grain of the times in which it was written. Mattie is no flower child. She’s a teetotaling moralist, capable of producing a Bible verse for any situation. Could say she’s something of a “decider.” Park celebrates the novel’s rich comedy, but adds:

“When Roy Blount, Jr., says that Portis ‘could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny,’ he may be both remembering and forgetting True Grit, which for all its high spirits is organized along a blood meridian, fraught with ominous slaughter. Blood literally stains the book’s first and last sentences, and Rooster, though admirable in his tenacity and his paternal protectiveness of Mattie, has a half-hidden history of trigger-happy law enforcement and less defensible acts of carnage.”

This sounds like the spirit the Coens are aiming for. According to Variety, the Coens’ script is more concerned with Mattie than Cogburn. But still, who would be able to give this American icon all the rootin’-tootin’ majesty he deserves? Dare we say, Clint … ?

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One Response to “The Coen Brothers Get Their Grit”

  1. Michael Chabon on Mars « SquallyShowers Says:

    […] Total Filmreminds us that Chabon has other movie projects on the go. Stephen Daldry has been attached to Kavalier and Clay, while the Coen Brothers are set to direct The Yiddish Policemen’s Unionafter they’ve finished True Grit. […]

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