True Grit, Done Right

By David E. Petzal

Charles Portis' novel, True Grit, appeared in 1968, and before a year had passed there was a movie of it starring John Wayne. The film, in which John Wayne played himself and got an Oscar for it, was a sort of comedy with gunfire, and had little to do with the novel, which was grim, sad, and filled with gallows humor.

The first True Grit had pretty scenery, Glen Campbell singing a dopey theme song, and sanitized violence. In TG II, there is no pretty scenery. Everyone is ragged, crazy, and homicidal. An unrecognizable Jeff Bridges plays U.S. Marshall Reuben Cogburn, and is so good that he makes you forget John Wayne. The rest of the major-league cast is equally terrific, and the 14-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Matty Ross, is a marvel. She is vengeful, humorless, and self-righteous. The Coen brothers have kept much of the book's dialog, and more important, its downbeat ending. The gunplay is impeccable, and there is plenty of it.

But credit where credit is due: At the end, Bridges' reading of Rooster Cogburn's immortal line: "Then fill your hand, you son of a bitch," does not come up to Wayne's. That belongs to the Duke forever.

Even if you're not a moviegoer, see this one.