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Up in the saddle

Posted by Wesley Morris  November 25, 2009 08:15 AM

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From our pal Mark Feeney.

Say this for the Coen brothers. They’re not predictable. For their next project, they’re remaking “True Grit,” the 1969 western that won John Wayne a best actor Oscar. Jeff Bridges is set to play Wayne’s role, the eyepatch-wearing US marshal Rooster Cogburn. Josh Brolin will play the killer, Tom Chaney. Matt Damon has been cast as La Boeuf, the Texas Ranger Glen Campbell played in the movie. Damon is a very good sign. Campbell, in his first acting role, did not exactly shine (though his hair did).

Anyone who’s read the Charles Portis novel that inspired the movie won’t find all that surprising the Coens’ attraction to the material. Henry Hathaway’s film softened and prettified what is, in effect, a revenge story: 14-year-old girl pursues father’s killer. The movie was shot in a picture-postcard Colorado instead of the far grittier Arkansas and Oklahoma of the novel. And Mattie Ross, the heroine, ends up with her arm amputated (in the final scene of the movie she’s just shown wearing a sling). “True Grit,” the novel,” may not be “No Country for Old Men” but there’s definitely a darkness there. The novel is “a lot tougher and more violent than the movie reflects,” Ethan Coen told the British website “Which is part of what’s interesting about it.”

The big question: Who plays Mattie? Smart and fierce and maddening, she can fight well above her weight class. It’s easy to imagine Mattie holding her own in a Flannery O’Connor story. Wayne’s casting in the movie seriously distended the original narrative. Rooster is a terrifically colorful character, but it’s Mattie’s novel. A good Mattie makes the movie, a bad one sinks it. Kim Darby did fine in the original. So who should succeed her? Here’s a vote for Anna Kendrick. True, she’s 24 (Darby was
22), but we know she can play a lot younger. Natalie, her hot-shot junior executive in “Up in the Air,” comes across in the first part of the movie as the world’s most overbearing middle-schooler . . . a younger Tracy Flick without the charm. Put Kendrick on a horse, and Brolin better watch out. So should Bridges. She could steal “True Grit” from him the way she steals “Up in the Air” from George Clooney.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is's features editor.

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