So it appears Joel and Ethan Coen are getting set to film a remake of True Grit, using the scriptwriter they worked with on No Country for Old Men. I consider this qualified good news.
Charles Portis’ 1968 novel is a terrific read, and all the good I can say about the 1969 film version is that it isn’t nearly as dire as the sequel. John Wayne was the exact wrong choice to play Rooster Cogburn — wrong artistically, wrong chemically, wrong geometrically, mathematically, geologically and just about any other way you can imagine — but those were the days when any movie with a horse in it got saddled with Duke. Yeah it got him his Oscar, and whoop de doo for that. It also spawned a sequel that gave him a chance to one-up Humphrey Bogart by redoing The African Queen in the Wild West, and by the time Duke and Katharine Hepburn got done chewing the scenery I’m surprised there was a single tree left standing in the Oregon Cascades. (There was also a made-for-TV second sequel, imaginatively titled True Grit: A Further Adventure, which nobody remembers. With good reason.)
So while I’m glad to hear the Coens are going to go back to Portis and come up with something much closer to the novel, I’m reserving judgment. The novel gets its zing from the first-person narration of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl out to avenge the murder of her father, and her relentlessly blunt, Bible-quoting manner can be played for too-easy laughs if done as a voice-over. Easy laughs, unfortunately, are the Coens’ stock in trade, along with comic rustics. I’d hate to see True Grit turned into a more violent version of O Brother, Where Art Thou, but that may very well be what we get. On the other hand, I could go along with John Goodman as Rooster Cogburn. Tommy Lee Jones as La Boeuf? John Turturro as Tom Chaney? Maybe this could work after all.