Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thoughts On True Grit & the Equine Actors

After seeing True Grit, I'm officially afraid of rattlesnakes--how about you? Did you see it?

My husband and I went on Christmas day, then watched the old True Grit and Rooster Cogburn movies. I was surprised at how much alike they all were. The new version borrows from both the old version of the same name and Rooster Cogburn (the rope keeping rattlesnakes away, for example.) All of them had that great western, horsey feel--and humor.

Another thing that impressed me right away with the new movie (but not the old) is their strict adherence to using NO CONTRACTIONS. I can't even imagine how difficult that was for the actors. It could have made the language seem stiff and false, but because they added the right dialect, it brought an edge or quirkiness instead. The Coen brothers did comment that it was difficult to do, but they wanted to stay true to the book.

I loved the horse, Blackie. The scene where she swims across the river on his back was great. All the horses did magnificent, as far as I'm concerned, as did the actors. I was sad when it was over. I could have stayed in the world of True Grit all day long. I'm not a person who likes to see many movies twice, but I'm looking forward to seeing this one again.

Here's an excerpt from an NPR interview with the Coen Brothers about working with the equine actors in True Grit:

"In addition to casting actors, the Coen brothers were faced with the difficulty of casting horses in True Grit, a task they initially approached with great trepidation. (For most of the movie, the actors are on horseback.)

Equine actors "are difficult to deal with for a number of reasons," says Joel Coen. "But we were lucky to work with probably the best horse wranglers in the business. And they do extraordinary things with the horses. The horses will often hit their marks in ways you sometimes wish the actors were capable of doing. But we were doing a lot of very complicated things with the horses, and there are restrictions on what you can do with animals — and horses in particular — which are there for very good reasons."

For instance, if you wanted a horse to fall down 20 years ago, Ethan says, you could have simply tripped the horse.

"You're not allowed to do that, with good reason," he says. "But it makes it very difficult. The horses have to be trained, and they have to want to fall down."

There are also rules in place about how close moving camera equipment can be to horses, who is allowed to touch a horse, and what the water temperature must be for aquatic scenes involving horses.

"It seems odd, because we were throwing actors in there with the horses, and the actors weren't complaining," Ethan says.

"There's frequently things you can do with actors that you can't do with animals," jokes Joel. "That's actually quite common. The horses are protected but the union isn't saying anything about putting the 13-year-old in freezing water."

Did you see True Grit? I've heard a couple people say they didn't like it because they were so happy with the first, and John Wayne, they can't accept a replacement. Personally, I thought Jeff Bridges brought Rooster Cogburn into the modern world. I was thinking, John Wayne, who?--after it was over, and I've always loved John Wayne.


  1. Very interesting about the rules for what they could do with the horses. It doesn't surprise me there are more restrictions on the animals than the humans.

  2. I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't seen either of them! Well, actually I probably saw the John Wayne one as a kid - my grandpa loved John Wayne. I'm going to have to watch them, probably on the small screen rather than in the theater for the new one.

  3. RR--true. It's kind of funny.

    Andrea, you'll love them both. The old one was on tv the other night and we DVRed it. It was in our Netflix Queu, but we would have had to have waited forever. It's a hot item right now.

  4. Seeing you mention the horse Blackie reminds me of a horse I used to ride decades ago, when I lived in New Hampshire. At the end of group trail rides, the Blackie I rode would break out from the group when he caught sight of the barn, and just gallop for all he was worth to get back to that comfort. There's no place like home, I guess, even for our horse friends :)

  5. I saw it over Christmas break and thought it was good. I especially liked the young girls character. The actress made her so believeable. I guess the premise behind all the rules is that an actor can speak up when he doesn't like something, and the horses have no voice save the one we give them with the rules. I liked the way they handled language in the film too. It made it feel more authentic to me.

  6. We watched this movie last night. I have to say that I was most drawn to the buckskin horse that "Ned Pepper" was riding. In the scene where he is talking to the girl you can see the buckskin in the background trying to untie his lead rope. I had to laugh!

    Honestly, I've never seen a John Wayne movie so I don't have any way to compare the two movies. I really should watch the first True Grit, shouldn't I?

  7. I've seen both and I liked the John Wayne one better for a couple of reasons: (1) the scenery and (2) John Wayne. I didn't think Jeff Bridges really put much effort into his role. However, I LOVED the young lady who played the girl much better than Kim Darby (who I found annoying!) Hubby and I actually found one of the film's sites (the Wayne version) up in the Sierras...Hell's Creek, up by Mammoth, and visited and hiked in it!


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.