Well, I watched the original before seeing this "remake". The original had John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Kim Darby. It was mediocre at best, hurt badly by Darby and her Mattie Ross character. Darby plays her as a whiny, demanding brat who wants things just because she does. She plagues the film with her incessant bleating about this, that and the other thing, and made me want her dead within 2 minutes. I had to laugh at the final scene when she suggests John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn would want his grave next to hers, and Wayne counters with "wouldn't that be for your husband." Yeah, as if any man, woman or child could put up with that bitch for longer than 2 seconds without killing either her or himself.
Anyhow, the new one has a 14 year-old as Mattie. I held out some hope at least if the character was whiny again, that at least it sounded better coming from a young teenager, and not a woman in her twenties. It helps too that when she does start complaining that things don't go her way, that Jeff Bridges puts her in her place, and fast.
She wasn't really whiny, though. In fact, she was quite good, as was the rest of the cast...and this was a damn fine movie, to boot. It is different that the first film, but in a good way. A lot of the problems I had with the first film were altered in this one (thus making it one of those remakes that actually improves on the original instead of proving why the original is the superior film), and the banter between Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon's character is jokes. While the first film tried to suggest there were these deep interpersonal relationships that were being developed on the journey to find a killer (and did not really work, considering that neither Wayne nor Glen Campbell had any on-screen chemistry with Darby), this film is all business, and I like that. These 3 individuals are kind of thrown together for a common goal, and they work hard to achieve it. Each has a reason for being on the expedition, be it fuelled by money, and revenge, and it's not all lovey-dovey at the end, which I like.
As expected, it was also far more brutal than the first film. People get shot (sometimes at close range), one character's tongue almost gets ripped off, one guy has his foot planted on the face of a 14 year-old girl...it has it's moments of brutality. The thing is, the movie is realistic, and does not pull punches. The killer is not remorseful for his acts, and even though he has murdered again and again, he just feels sorry for himself. Mattie's two companions are interested in the venture for the money alone, and even though they do care for Mattie and don't want any harm to come to her, it's not like their big friends after the expeditions...in fact, there's a few differences of opinion that leads to split-ups at various points in the film.
All in all, the movie was a solid Western. The movie was serious, but it had it's moments of levity, it was a big journey film, and it was a journey. Each of the characters displays their "true grit" (which is more than I can say for the original), and in the end, I was satisfied. At the end of the day, that's all I'm asking for in a movie.
Stars out of 5: Original - 2.5, Remake - 4