Sunday, August 23, 2015

Don't Re-Make a Scene: True Grit (2010)

The Set-Up: One of the most popular of the "Don't Make a Scene's" of the last year has been the gun-fight in the glen from the 1969 version of True Grit, starring John Wayne.  The visits were no doubt due to folks wanting to re-visit the scene after having seen (or anticipating) the recent remake by Joel and Ethan Coen

"Well," I thought, after several weeks of that entry getting at least a dozen hits. "why not do the new version of the scene, as well?"

Why not, indeed? The words of dialog are very much similar (I was tempted to use the earlier version of the article, with its selections from Marguerite Roberts' screenplay combined with appropriate passages from Portis' novel as a guide, but found the Coen brothers screenplay online), but the pictures, and the look are very much different. As I noted in the latter version's review, the first takes place in a sunny glen, where as this takes place in a wintry scrub-meadow, and although everybody is properly grubby in the 1969 version directed by Henry Hathaway, here the participants look positively scraggly.

Also, the technology has improved. The Coens and their brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins can use Steadicams to smooth the bumps and jostles following and tracking along with horses on the run. Not meaning any disparagement here, but John Wayne would not have been allowed to drive a horse with the reins in his teeth—he was doubtless on a camera truck during his scene, as I'm sure precautions were taken with Bridges in this one, although the close-shots are clearly him—it is just as clearly a stunt-man taking the fall with the trained horse (so care is taken for both horse and rider), and that's not real blood spurting out of men and horses. It also allows the camera to get in closer to the action (even from the horses' perspective—like a joust), while also letting the sound-boys emphasize distance by using separate microphone sources on the shouted dialogue in the meadow—a nice touch. 

The Coens and/or their editor Roderick Jaynes* are scrupulously tight with the editing, shots flow into each other, completing actions from previous shots and anticipating the results of the next. Each shot is composed to last just enough to complete an action, and as a result the sequence is fast. The 2010 version of the scene goes through 102 edits and lasts 02:29. The same sequence in Henry Hathaway's 1969 version lasts 04:48 and has 64 edits (both from surprising Chaney to LaBoueuf getting clobbered). That is an impressive difference, with Hathaway's providing more dialog and drama...and one great laugh-line efficiently, while the Coens make it a seamless, extraordinarily detailed military action—right down to making sure Cogburn sights with the one eye and adding more interaction with the watchers on the ledge.**

A couple of notes here. I've moved script sections around (crossing out the original placement), so you can see where the Coens moved things around for pacing—things move pretty fast, understandably, and so longer scenes with dialogue were shifted, so as to give a better flow to the action. And as for LaBoeuf's dialogue being written so strangely? Earlier in the film, LaBoeuf nearly bites his tongue in half from being dragged by a horse, and is still recovering.  That's why the sibilancy's a little thick. Matt Damon soft-pedals it a bit in the film, but it's there, and the script works phonetically.

This is Father's Day, and my memories of my father are slightly tied to the 1969 film, as I first went to see it with him. He gave a hard chuckle at John Wayne's "Fill your hands, you sunuvvabitch!"—he was constrained from using "language" at home, and used it only in front of us kids as a joke to get a rise out of my mother. He enjoyed hearing it in movies—he was a Navy man where things can get salty...I should tell you about the time we went to see The Last Detail—and took it with humor, and not with some outraged blue-nosed shock. I think he would have cackled at the way Jeff Bridges delivers the line-different from Wayne's—almost an offended scream. Anyway: obligatory Father's Day mention.

One other last thing: horses must think we're crazy.

The Scene:  The motley posse formed to bring in the killer of a "little" Texas Senator and the father of young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is "in a bad way:" Mattie has been captured by the gang the hapless gunman Tom Chaney, nee Chelmsford (Josh Brolin) has partnered with. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) has rescued Mattie, who the two lawman had supposedly abandoned. 

But, it was just a feint. They've split off, the Ranger tasked to rescue the girl, while Marshall Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) confronts his real prize, the gang of "Lucky" Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper)


Whack--a rifle stock swings into frame, connecting with Chaney's head.
His head snaps to one side and then lolls back as he slowly straightens, ropey drool and blood pouring from his mouth. He sways briefly and then collapses onto Mattie.
A hand enters to pull him off. Mattie blearily props herself on her elbows.
LeBoeuf is panting and sweating from his climb. He gazes down at Chaney. Once he has breath:
LeBoeuf: Sho that ish Chelmthford.
LeBoeuf: Shtrange to be sho closhe at lasht.
Mattie: Mr. Laboeuf...
Mattie: How is it you are here?
LeBoeuf's look breaks from Chaney. He pulls his pipe from his pocket and lights it.
LeBoeuf: I heard the shotsh...
LeBoeuf: and went down to the river. . .
He crosses the rock ledge.
LeBoeuf: . . . Cogburn outlined a plan.
LeBoeuf: (reacts to hole) Mind your footing. There izh a pit there!
He skirts the large hole and reaches the shelf's far lip and gazes out.
LeBoeuf: Hizh part, I fear...
LeBoeuf: ...izh rash.
Before him is a steep drop-off. We see the very crowns of near pines and then, four hundred yards away, the land flattening to an open meadow.
Mattie, also gazing out, comes up beside LeBoeuf.
Mattie: A plan?
LeBoeuf points with his pipe.
LeBoeuf: He returnzh for Lucky Ned.
Lucky Ned, the Parmalees, and the Doctor are just entering the low meadow, riding away.
As they do so Rooster enters at the far side, facing. He draws one of his navy sixes as he advances.
Mattie: One against four. It is ill advised.
Leboeuf shrugs.
LeBoeuf: He would not be dishuaded.
He and Mattie both watch as, below, the parties advance on each other at a walk. Eighty yards separating them, they halt.
Rooster and Lucky Ned eye each other. After a beat:
Lucky Ned: Well, Rooster...
Lucky Ned: ...will you give us the road?***
Mattie: One against four. It is ill advised.
Leboeuf shrugs.
LeBoeuf: He would not be dishuaded.
Rooster (in the distance): Hello, Ned.
Idiot: Moo! Moo!
Rooster: How many men are with the girl?
Lucky Ned: Our agreement is in force:
Lucky Ned: she was in excellent health when last I saw her.
Rooster nods. A beat.
Rooster: Farrel...
Rooster: I want you and your brother to stand clear. 
Rooster: You as well, Doctor.
Rooster: I have no interest in you today.
Lucky Ned: What is your intention, Rooster?
Lucky Ned: Do you think one on four is a dogfall?
Rooster: I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned.
Rooster: Or see you hanged...
Rooster: Fort Smith...
Rooster: Judge Parker's convenience. Which will you have?
Ned Pepper laughs.
Lucky Ned: I call that bold talk...
Lucky Ned: ...for a one-eyed fat man!
Idiot: Koo koo roo! Blawk!
Rooster: Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!
He puts the reins in his teeth,
grabs his other revolver with the hand now free, and spurs his horse.
Mattie watches him charge.
The facing four charge to meet him.
Mattie: Shoot them, Mr. LeBoeuf!
LeBoeuf: Too far, moving too fasht.
Over the distant laughter of the idiot, the crackle of gunfire commences.
Rooster turns his head to either side as he fires, bringing his good eye into play.
The idiot is gaily waving a revolver over his head, not firing, squawking like a chicken as he charges.
A shot from Rooster kills him and swipes him neatly off his horse.
Mattie: Shoot them, Mr. LeBoeuf!
LeBoeuf: Too far, moving too fasht.
The Doctor Indian-rides past, sliding down and hooking an ankle on his saddle so that he may ride in the cover of his horse's body. He makes for the treeline on the far side of the meadow.
Farrel Parmalee has a shotgun. It roars.
Shot peppers Rooster.
He returns fire.
Farrel Parmalee's horse is hit. It stumbles, and Farrel is dashed forward, snapping his neck.
The Doctor Indian-rides past, sliding down and hooking an ankle on his saddle so that he may ride in the cover of his horse's body. He makes for the treeline on the far side of the meadow.
Rooster and Lucky Ned are charging each other, both firing.
They pass each other--both still mounted
--but Rooster's horse has been hit and it falls, pinning Rooster's leg. His guns are gone, lost in the fall.
Rooster, bleeding from sprayed shot in neck, face, and shoulder, struggles and unpins his leg.
Lucky Ned is reining his horse around with his left hand. His right arm dangles. He walks his horse toward Rooster, who is getting to his feet.
Lucky Ned: Well Rooster,...
Lucky Ned: I am shot to pieces.
Lucky Ned: It seems neither of us...
Lucky Ned: to see Judge Parker.
He drops the reins to reach out a gun with his one working arm.
LeBoeuf, sighting.
LeBoeuf: Oh lord.
He squeezes the trigger.
He screams as the gun roars and bucks back into his shoulder.
Rooster is facing Lucky Ned.
Lucky Ned raises his gun at Rooster and--is shot in the chest.
As we hear the weakly distant guncrack Ned flops backward, slides halfway down one side of the saddle, and dangles, briefly, foot tangled in a stirrup, horse standing unperturbed.
Then, he drops.
Mattie whoops as LeBoeuf groans.
Mattie: Woo-hoo! Some bully...
Mattie: ...shot!
Mattie: That was...
Mattie: ...four hundred yards, at least!
LeBoeuf sets the rifle down and gropes at his shoulder.
LeBoeuf: I am afraid I have--
LeBoeuf: Well...
LeBoeuf: The Sharps carbine...
LeBoeuf: a...
A rock is brought down on his head by Tom Chaney.
Mattie screams.

True Grit (2010)

Words by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (based on the novel by Charles Portis)

Pictures by Roger Deakins and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

True Grit (2010) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures.
(So, is True Grit from 1969)

* Roderick Jaynes is actually the nom de la lame of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

** For the record (and it might be), there are 172 screen-caps in this one, and having done the previous version (with only 80 screen-caps), I felt a growing sense of panic when I'd gotten to 77 here without anybody firing a shot! The things I do for you people...

*** Everybody is great in this movie, but special mention must be made of Barry Pepper, playing "Lucky" Ned Pepper (no relation, I think), a role played in the earlier version by a pre-Godfather Robert Duvall. Pepper makes the role his own, with a rangy look, but an innate evil intelligence that the dialogue indicates. Pepper (Barry) also has the grace to acknowledge Duvall's history in the part, using distinctive hand-gestures that Duvall used while playing Captain Augustus McCrae in the mini-series of Larry McMurtry's great "Lonesome Dove." The screen-cap asterisked here is one of them—the lazy limp-wristed full-arm fluorish ending in a hand-point with two fingers.

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