The Coen brothers’ ‘True Grit’ would have been better if only it had…
True Grit was without a doubt a box office hit. It has won more than a dozen awards, and was nominated for 10 Oscars.
So, it’s probably a little silly of me at this point to say that if it had done one simple thing it would have been a classic, because I’m sure many would argue it already is one. With that in mind, I believe a very simple casting decision would have made the Coens’ version of True Grit so much more.
The Coens were presented with a rather unique opportunity with a scene in the hard-hitting western, one that would have been true to their style and history. They could even have used the John Wayne version of the film to provide some justification, if they had so chosen.
The scene I’m talking about is common to both the 2010 True Grit and the 1969 version starring The Duke (with some minor differences). In it, Rooster Cogburn comes across a hunter’s shack which is supposedly deserted. However, he discovers two men have taken up residence there.
Those two men are Emmett Quincy and Moon. In the Coens’ version, they are played by Paul Rae and Domhnall Gleeson, respectively.
The scene is quite good. A dark, gritty moment where Cogburn attempts to question the men about the location of the villainous Ned Pepper and the prey in his hunt, Tom Chaney. The men refuse to talk at the beginning, but Moon eventually breaks. To shut him up, Quincy kills him, then is shot dead by Cogburn in the process.
Rae and Gleeson do an admirable job, but they shouldn’t have played the roles. Instead, two other actors would have transformed the scene into a true silver screen classic: John Turturro and John Goodman.
Such an event would have marked a big screen reunion for the three actors, all of whom appeared in the Coens’ cult classic, The Big Lebowski.
Besides being a wet dream for Lebowski fans — short of a sequel, maybe — it would have added a element to the scene that couldn’t have existed otherwise. A history to the characters would have given it a depth and resonance that really would have made it a major moment.
Now, this idea isn’t out of left field. The Coens are notorious for using the same actors in their movies: George Clooney, Freddy Bender, Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand and Charles Durning just to name a few.
Turturro and Goodman are no different.
Turturro had a small role in Miller’s Crossing in 1990, and Goodman appeared in Raising Arizona in 1987. The two then went on to co-star in 1991’s Barton Fink. The pair later had roles in O Brother, Where Art Thou.
The two men the Coens cast into the roles of Quincy and Moon even fit the body types of Turturro and Goodman. Goodman would have fit perfect in the role of Quincey, while Turturro would have made a perfect Moon.
One could even look back at the original True Grit. The role of Moon is played by Dennis Hopper. He was not well known at the time, and it was no cameo, but because his career flourished afterwards it has since elevated his brief appearance into a notable performance. This alone could have provided them with a window to make more of the roles than having them played by unrecognizable performers.
This bit of speculation is by no means meant to criticize True Grit. I thoroughly enjoyed the film. But for some reason when this scene came up, for a moment I thought maybe the Coens had thought of it. I don’t know why, there was nothing in the media before hand to suggest it. But it has stuck with me since, and I really feel as if it was a missed opportunity that really would have transformed the film as a whole.