There's a reason no one makes westerns anymore, and "True Grit" provides us with an exceptionally crystal clear reminder.
Remember when they stopped making westerns? Unless your primary source of income is a Social Security check no, you probably don't. Oh sure, there are still a trickle of westerns flowing out of the cracks in the Hollywood blockbuster dam, but nothing like the tumult of cowboys and Indians that previous generations were subjected to in the 50's, 60's and 70's when it was virtually a crime for any leading man to not star in a movie that combining assless chaps and genocide.
There's a reason no one makes westerns anymore, and "True Grit" provides us with an exceptionally crystal clear reminder. First of all, every protagonist in a western is white, and if by some amazing miracle of casting (or budgetary indiscretion) they aren't white, they're usually gunned down or knifed at some point in the film. Think of westerns as sort of proto-horror movies – firearms porn for people with horse fetishes and leather peccadilloes.
The second problem with western movies is that they all adopt one of three plots:
Someone's being hunted down. Doesn't really matter why.
Someone used to be a hero but is now a drunk who will be provided with a conveniently plotted way to redeem himself.
Someone is out for vengeance.
That's it. Fluff them up with precocious kids like "True Grit" did, or make one of the cowboys a woman or give an Indian the novel ability to speak in more than monosyllabic bursts if you must, but in a nutshell, all westerns are the same. Hell, there are even well-established sub-genres of westerns like the "scarred-face whore" flick and the "horse that likes little girls" series.
What makes "True Grit" even more uninteresting than it's tired adherence to every existing western cliché is the fact that the source materials it is based on hails from 1968. That's right – the book isn't even authentically western: it was written by some dude who got out of the Army and published a serial in The Saturday Evening Post. Ever seen a cowboy reading The Saturday Evening Post? Me neither – at least, not outside of a high-brow strip club.
In all honesty, directors Ethan and Joel Coen had one shot at making "True Grit" a movie worth watching: re-animating a zombie John Wayne and having him reprise his role after having decayed in the ground for untold decades. I mean, the main character already has an eye-patch – it's not much of a stretch to make him a zombie. And give him a zombie horse, too, because why the fuck not? And a badge.
A zombie horse ridden by a zombie with a badge. I think I've just written True Grit 2: Nitty Gritty.
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