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Was The Duke a better Rooster Cogburn than Jeff Bridges?

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Posted: Monday, February 7, 2011 5:00 pm

 

I enjoyed the Coen Brothers' version of "True Grit" so I thought it would be interesting to compare it to the original featuring The Duke in his Oscar-winning role as Marshall Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn.

But there really isn't any comparison.

The original, released in 1969, just doesn't hold up to the new version.

• John Wayne had amazing screen presence, granted. He was huge and charismatic and had a voice that cut like a chainsaw. You could not not notice him. Problem is, Wayne's swagger and size dwarfed everyone else in the movie, especially Kim Darby as Mattie Ross.

The Rooster played by Jeff Bridges is more interesting, more human, and leaves space for a splendidly nuanced performance by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie.

• The Coens know how to write and direct dialogue. Lines that were uttered with staccato sameness in Version One, with the right timing and setup, become funny or ironic in the new Grit. For example:

Lawyer Goudy: Now, I believe you testified that you backed away from Aaron Wharton?

Rooster Cogburn: That's right.

Lawyer Goudy: Which direction were you going?

Rooster Cogburn: I always go backwards when I'm backing up.

• Director of original Grit, Henry Hathaway, was prolific but drew little critical acclaim. He pumped out over 60 movies in his career, including many Westerns, such as `Nevada Smith,' with Steve McQueen.

• One treat in the original: A turn by Robert Duvall as Lucky Ned Pepper.

I grew up watching and admiring John Wayne. As I said, he had a commanding presence.

But The Duke was not the most dextrous of actors and True Grit, the first time around, was little more than a slightly above average Western.

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