Monday, September 26, 2011

Coen Brothers: True Grit, Part 2

The trope of retribution in True Grit also runs through Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West / C'era una volta il West (1968), which, along with Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly / Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966), presents the most powerful vision of the American West ever put on film. True Grit is a strong American Western, but Leone's films carry universal weight, a gravitas no doubt carried over from surviving as a boy -- at the receiving end -- through fascism and the Second World War. Unlike someone like John Wayne, Sergio Leone (1929-1989) had the advantage of operating with a critical distance between himself and the American political landscape, a landscape through which American-made Western movies must inevitably travel to be made. Besides which, John Wayne was a true believer in simple black and white distinctions between good people (flag-waving, saber-flashing Americans) and evil people (everyone else).

In True Grit, Rooster Cogburn is the living epitome of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), if Jackson had been born fifty or sixty years after his actual birth, and if instead of president of the USA, he'd become a US Marshal. Cogburn and Jackson's quixotic code of honor is identical or nearly so; they both "know they are right," and do whatever it takes to see things through their way. They are fearless, headstrong, talented, chauvinist and a bit crazy; neither distances nor obstacles can stop them. But they do pay a heavy physical price for their movements and style, and they do have flashes of doubt. Fourteen-year old Mattie Ross has some of the same obstinate, relentless and occasionally doubting qualities, but she in True Grit aims for a supremely direct retributive act, a one-time deal; yet she, too, pays for that single-mindedness in more ways than one. Be careful what you wish for.

One thing is certain about Andrew Jackson and the main characters depicted in the Coen brothers' True Grit or a Sergio Leone film: you probably wouldn't want to cross paths with any of them on a bad day.       

Today's Rune: Harvest.


the walking man said...

I will probably like this version very much. Once I learned of Marion Morrison's history especially during WWII I lost all respect for him. He was out for himself and John Ford did it for him, even though they did not care for each others "opposite end of the political spectrum"

He either was a true coward or instead of serving durig the war Morrison saw an opening with all of the A list actors gone to fight he stayed to make a name for himself. To me he lived the rest of his life as a lie.

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoyed the new True Grit quite a lot, but it won't replace in my imagination movies like "once upon a time in the west."

Mona said...

Shall look forward to see that one.

I like the distinction between 'good' ppl & the 'evil' ppl that you make!

jodi said...

Erik, as a child I was exposed to way too many westerns. Rooster was definatly a mans man. My son loves the Coen's!

Erik Donald France said...

Hey, thanks all for the comments ~~ WM, add Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston to that mix.