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December 22, 2010 by · 6 Comments 

John Wayne, 1968

It’s obviously impossible to review the Coen Brothers’ True Grit without comparing it to the original starring John Wayne. Most critics conclude that they have improved upon the original. “Joel and Ethan Coen have pulled off an impressive feat,” writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. “True Grit is more than a remake,” she concludes, “It’s a triumph in the long list of Coen successes.” Many of the reviews focus on how well Jeff Bridges takes on the role that won John Wayne an Oscar for the 1969 original. Comments Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Bridges doesn’t have the archetypal stature of the Duke. Few ever have. But he has here, I believe, an equal screen presence. We always knew we were looking at John Wayne in the original True Grit. When we see Rooster Cogburn in this version, we’re not thinking about Jeff Bridges.”

Jeff Bridges, 2010

Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle puts it another way. Bridge’s achievement, he writes, “is not that he’s better than Wayne – you can’t really argue with the image of Wayne onscreen – but rather that when Bridges is up there, Wayne doesn’t cross the mind.” And Roger Moore concludes in the Orlando Sentinel, “Bridges is more than Wayne’s match as an actor. But even in his iconic roles, he’s never more or less than absolutely authentic and real-life sized.” All of those judgments, however, appear to be utter heresy to Kyle Smith in the New York Post. “It isn’t much of a contest,” he writes. “The clear winner is John Wayne, because the Coens are playing his game. The Duke couldn’t do the Coens’ sly in-jokes, but they’ve never been able to reach out and move the audience to heights of emotion.”