September 12, 2010
High Plains Drifter (1973) ****
Directed by Clint Eastwood
High Plains Drifter (1973)- Savior for a town not worth saving--dark deconstructed Western dealing with familiar Eastwood themes. **** of 5
A dark, mysterious stranger enters a troubled western town in order to save it from the bad guys--this is pretty standard formulaic stuff; however, what if that town has sins in its past which require that the inhabitants be punished? Eastwood explores the themes of repentance and forgiveness in High Plains Drifter, his first western as a director, much like he would in just about every subsequent film in his directorial canon. The idea of a town not worth saving is not a new one--take High Noon as an example. High Plains Drifter follows the idea to its logical extreme, and the result is equally disturbing and believable. The supernatural elements feel like something out of a Stephen King story, which might be the film's most novel aspect. It's pretty arresting to see Eastwood's character kill with absolutely no remorse whatsoever. His humanity and compassion are stripped away completely and this shell of brimming anger is allowed free reign to manipulate and terrorize those that arguably deserve everything that's coming to them. The western genre has never been known for its philosophical and existential explorations, though films like High Plains Drifter prove that expectations can be confounded.
True Grit (1969) ****
Directed by Henry Hathaway
True Grit (1969)- Wayne is just terrific in a wonderfully entertaining formula western. **** out of 5
True Grit will forever be known as the movie that finally gave John Wayne his overdue Oscar for Best Actor. Many claim this win to be sentimental considering that Wayne was not only an icon, but also because he was suffering from cancer pretty significantly by the time of the film's release. I've not seen Goodbye, Mr. Chips or Anne of the Thousand Days which saw nominations for Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton respectively in 1969, but I have seen Midnight Cowboy, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Was John Wayne better than Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman who were both nominated for their performances as well? The answer is an unqualified no. Out of the three I can speak about, the performance that deserved the Oscar win was that of Dustin Hoffman as the iconic Ratso. That being said, Wayne is truly excellent in True Grit, which is a solid film that's very entertaining but doesn't have a lot of depth beyond that. He plays Rooster Cogburn, a worn out, heavy drinking federal marshal, who wants nothing to do with the pleas of teenage Mattie Ross, who's set on capturing the man responsible for the death of her father. Mattie is played by Kim Darby, who Wayne referred to as one of the worst actresses he's ever worked with. The first forty minutes of the film has Darby anchor everything that's going on, and let's just say that the first half sort of drifts according to the tide as a result. Darby is truly awful until the action picks up, and then she's passable at best. Singer Glen Campbell plays Texas ranger Le Beouf in a straightforward performance that works, though his character isn't as fleshed out as it could have been. True Grit hits its stride when Wayne takes over and the bullets start flying. Dennis Hopper plays a small role with fervor, and Robert Duvall portrays his villainous character with quite a bit of polish and nuance. There's little that you haven't seen before, but Wayne's wonderful turn is enough to make this conventional western worth your time. The Coen Brothers are remaking the film which is set to release this fall, and I look forward to seeing what they will do with this material. They're complex filmmakers, and this film could have used a bit more complexity. Though it might not have been deserved, Wayne's Oscar was won for a top-notch turn, and for that reason, I hold no contempt at all for this win.