Friday, January 7, 2011

True Grit

I just watched the new film "True Grit" this afternoon, and I am quite impressed with it. Not a "remake" of the 1969 John Wayne film of the same name, but rather a different adaptation of the book into film. The Coen Brothers did a remarkable job in bringing the book to life, and giving the characters a much earthier, more complex depth than the earlier film ever could have done.

Jeff Bridges as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn does a great job of portraying a down-at-the-heels US Marshal from "Hanging Judge" Parker's court in Fort Smith Arkansas in the 1870's. Not by any means a "nice guy", but rather a former partisan ranger from the Civil War who had ridden with Quantrell at Lawrence, Kansas and probably performed some rather bloody work in the process. A man of few scruples and less patience when it comes to dealing with others of his ilk, he's a hard man, but also one who has the heart to do his absolute utmost to save the young girl's life when it's endangered. His armament of a pair of "Navy Sixes" is most interesting, being his outfit from his Civil War days carried as spares in pommel holsters on his saddle. (Of course they're not actually .36 caliber Navy Colts, but rather the larger .44 Caliber Dragoons, as they are definitely visually more impressive than the smaller, and smaller caliber, Navys.) His primary armament consists of the more modern "cartridge guns", a Colt Single Action Army revolver (probably in .45, one would imagine) and a Winchester '73 Rifle in .44 Winchester Center Fire (Colt had just begun chambering it's revolvers in .44 WCF the year before, so it's doubtful that Mr. Cogburn had managed to get his hands on one so quickly, but you never know).

Mat Damon's character, Le Boef, the Texas Ranger, is rather amusing in many ways. Dressed in rather outlandish getup for Arkansas he styles himself, rather, as a "buckskin cavalier", but is quickly put in his place by young Maddie Ross, the protagonist of the story. She points out that he looks more the "circus clown" than an officer of the law. What is quite nice about this is that he IS dressed outlandishly for that place, but it's a completely, totally period outlandishness which wouldn't have seemed nearly so out of place further West, say in the Rockies or Western Canada, but in Fort Smith Arkansas not so much. By the way, his Sharps Carbine is completely appropriate for a Texas Ranger, as they were issue pieces during the mid-1870's from the State of Texas which was using former US Cavalry weapons.

Maddie (Hailee Steinfield) of course carries her father's cap-and-ball "Colt's Dragoon", a large revolver which constituted Samuel Colt's first major commercial success in 1848-1861's production. Using the same frame as the larger Colt's Walker revolver (1847) purchased by the US Army and issued in the fading days of the Mexican War, the Dragoon is what made Colt a household name throughout the United States (though it was the smaller, handier Navy Model of 1851 which made Colt a household name throughout the world.) Never the less, it would be quite possible for Maddie to have carried such a revolver, it being her father's property, on such an occasion. Though outmoded by the more modern cartridges which had come out in the past 10 years or so prior to our story, it was still considered to be a powerful, reliable side-arm. Though somewhat slow to load due to it's use of "loose ammunition" (powder, ball and cap all placed within or on the cylinder separately) and therefore also somewhat less reliable than cartridges, it was still very much a deadly firearm, and for the first six shots the equal of anything then manufactured. Still is, in fact.

The only other firearm of note is the Remington Model of 1875 Army revolver which Ned Pepper carries. It's nice that he has emblems from playing cards on the grips, indicative of his sobriquet, "Lucky" Ned Pepper. (I also found it amusing that the actor who portrayed "Lucky" Ned Pepper shared the character's last name, he being Barry Pepper. Rather neat.) By the by, his "wooly chaps" were great! Perhaps not a common item in the Indian Territory in the 187o's (being more of a Northern Plains 1880's and later phenomenon) but from the point of view of defining the character from his comrades, quite brilliant. Besides, they LOOK very, very cool.

The horsemanship of the film wasn't too bad, and the horsemanship of Hailee Steinfield is superb. The girl can ride! Good for her, and good for the Coen Brothers for actually casting a girl who can not only act up a storm, but also ride like she was born in the saddle! Bully for them! Also the horse tack was great. Definitely of the period. Perhaps a bit new, perhaps a bit too "cowboy" for some of the characters, but definitely saddlery that was available in the time and place, and therefore further kudo's to the producers and their props and wrangler departments.

One of the things I have to also remark upon is that the shots fired SOUND like real shots being fired from a black-powder weapon, be it cap-and-ball or cartridge. The big, hollow "Whumph!" sound rather than the sharp crack of the modern smokeless blanks that had been so often used (or rather Foleyed in later) is proper, and to me at least adds a great deal to the "feel" of the film.

So there it is. An excellent film, a wonderful Western, and a great character study of people who have determination and indeed, "True Grit".




Neb said...

The wardrobe in this film is breathtaking in its evocation of the period. I'm in awe. Not since "Appaloosa" have I been so impressed.

Dario T. W. said...

Hey Gordon,
I have not seen the movie yet but that saddle and tack description and period weaponry make me wanna see it, although I've got this big sentiment for John Wayne westerns - thanks for interesting review.

darkmuse said...

I want to read original book before watching. anyone already read it?

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