The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.
Movie critic Dan Gagliasso doesn’t like the Coen brothers’ remake of the Henry Hathaway-John Wayne “True Grit.”
He is especially upset because the moment he most treasures — when Wayne, on horseback, takes the reins in his teeth and yells to Lucky Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), “Fill your hand you s.o.b.” — is in the Coens’ hands just another scene. “The new film,”
Gagliasso complains, “literally throws that great cinematic moment away.”
That’s right; there is an evenness to the new movie’s treatment of its events that frustrates Gagliasso’s desire for something climactic and defining.
In the movie Gagliasso wanted to see — in fact the original “True Grit” — we are told something about the nature of heroism and virtue and the relationship between the two. In the movie we have just been gifted with, there is no relationship between the two; heroism, of a physical kind, is displayed by almost everyone, “good” and “bad” alike, and the universe seems at best indifferent, and at worst hostile, to its exercise.
The springs of that universe are revealed to us by the narrator-heroine Mattie in words that appear both in Charles Portis’s novel and the two films, but with a difference. The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.”
Stanley Fish is a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, in Miami, and this semester is Floersheimer Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Cardozo School of Law. He is the author of 13 books, most recently “Save the World On Your Own Time” and “The Fugitive in Flight,” a study of the 1960s TV drama. “How to Write a Sentence,” a celebration of sentence craft and sentence pleasure, will be out in January 2011.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Steve Froehlich of Ithica, NY for the tip on this review on Facebook!