False Grit

There are no do overs in life. Whatever happens, happens, unless- that is- you are in the movie-making business. A producer with cash burning in his pocket decides that he can re-create a film made a generation or two earlier and do a better job of it. Or maybe he is out of fresh ideas so he takes what has worked in the past and runs with it. That works great for automobiles, trains and planes as well as computers, televisions and phones. But, give me a break!

Recently a big deal has been made about a redo of the 1969 John Wayne Academy Award winning movie, True Grit. To me, anything made in 1969 is not yet quite so ancient that it needs to have it redone to suit modern audiences. Besides, I’ve yet to see a re-make that is better than the original, and that includes Ocean’s Eleven and The Nutty Professor.

What these very wealthy decision makers do not understand is that sometimes genius requires a dash of pathos to go with it. Jeff Bridges is a nice guy and has made a handful of decent movies such as The Last Picture Show (although it wasn’t his to shine), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (in which he stole away the film from Clint Eastwood), Starman, The Fisher King and The Big Lebowski (in which the shoe was on the other foot, and John Goodman stole all his scenes). Now he takes on John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn character and critics are oohing and aahing about his adding new dimension to the drunken sheriff who helps a girl take revenge on her daddy’s killers.

This is ridiculous to those of us who spent forty or more years fawning over Wayne’s performances. Memo to critics: No one ever watched a Wayne picture expecting to peel off various layers of character flaw or nuance. We just wanted to see The Duke do what he was paid to do, which was to stand leaning on one hip and declare he wasn’t going to put up with anyone who tried to do him or his friends harm. There were a couple of notable exceptions to his body of work such as The Quiet Man and The Searchers and maybe ironically his last film, The Shootist in which he showed that he was vulnerable to age. Rarely did Wayne disappoint.

What John had that Jeff does not is simply that the camera not only loved him but that it caressed him and made the viewer always sympathetic to the character he played. Wayne’s Rooster- when he swore and put the bit of the reins in his mouth and started galloping across an open field with guns ablaze, you worried if this would be the Duke’s last gunfight. You willed him to succeed and help do justice by the end of the flick. With Jeff you are more witnessing an event and curious to know its outcome but there is no emotional involvement with his character.

Putting all this kidding around aside, no one else can duplicate what or who they were thirty, forty or fifty years earlier. The voice you hear when you speak, the ideas you express may seem the same from way back when but you’re looking from the inside out. Others look at you from the outside in. They see the body spread out more, the slower gait and the reticence of action.

The weather gets warmer and you feel like going outside to play catch but whom are you gonna call? Besides, you’ve got work to do in order to pay the out-of-sight health insurance premiums and ever-increasing property tax bills. So, when you get the chance you live vicariously through the twenty- and thirty- something year old athletes to whom they pay astronomical salaries. You watch them do the things you used to do for fun and don’t understand why they think you are nuts because you expect them to be perfect. Yep- no do-overs so enjoy the process while you can.

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