At risk of seeming unpatriotic in the face of the slow and ponderous ‘The King’s Speech”s inevitable victories in most catagories at tonight’s Oscars, can I just say that I think the Coen Brothers’ ‘True Grit’ is a much better film?
I know that some liberals and some lefties have problems with the western per se: this writer to the Graun, for instance:
“What is the western genre about, what’s the grand story that’s being told? Put simply, it’s capitalism vs nature, and capitalism always triumphs … Extreme violence is such an integral part of it all. Good violence in the service of the political ideology of capitalism, the expansion into the wilderness and the necessity of legitimising the genocide of the native population of North America.Much as I love westerns … there is just something odd about turning a history of genocide, a veritable holocaust for the natives, into a form of mindless entertainment.”
Despite the prejudices of Guardian-reading pricks like that, the best Westerns (eg: The Searchers, High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane and Red River) explore the human condition as few other film genres do; the best of them (eg John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece The Searchers) also give sympathetic portrayals of the plight of native American ‘Indians.’
A real criticism is that most classic westerns are all-male, with little or no female involvement, apart from as brothel-keepers or wholesome mothers/wives. Actually, even that’s not entirely true, as Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar demonstrated.
But the Coens’ True Grit features a wonderful teenage heroine (are we still allowed to use that term?) Hailee Steinfeld as the narrator Mattie Ross, and it’s a brilliant performance. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn manages to make us forget John Wayne’s 1969 portrayal (no mean achievement in itself) in what must surely be the role of a lifetime.
The overrated King’s Speech will, no doubt, win all the prizes tonight: but I predict that True Grit will still be being watched and appreciated in fifty years’ time, when the British pro-monarchy piece of historically-inaccurate whimsy has been all but forgotten.