It doesn’t take rocket science to see why True Grit enjoyed the biggest opening weekend of any Coen brothers movie to date. The film may not have won the Coens their most rapturous reviews (though the critics were largely enthusiastic), and it’s hardly their best or most defining work. Yet it’s a remake of a famous and, indeed, iconic Hollywood movie — one that, while not quite a "classic," remains a robust and beloved end-of-the-studio-system-era Western. OMG, I used the R-word! — I called True Grit a "remake." The vulgarity, the lowbrow cluelessness on my part! From the outset, you see, the directorial and studio spin on this movie has been to insist that it’s a completely different animal from the deeply sentimental 1969 when-fresh-faced-teenybopper-met-grizzled-old-marshal fable of popular vengeance. The Coens, making their publicity rounds, have talked and talked about how they went back to Charles Portis’ original novel, which was published in 1968. But if, like me, you’ve never read the novel (and I would guesstimate that 97 percent of the people who saw True Grit over the weekend have not), then after all the remake? what remake?! spin, you might be startled to see how close the movie really does come to the 1969 version. At times, it borders on being a scene-for-scene, line-for-line gloss on it.
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