Best picture nominee, True Grit disappointed me in a lot of ways. First off, it was advertised as some grisly, badass western with the Dude shooting people whilst drunk. It looked like a great horse opera. It looked like this:
Unfortunately, it wasn't that. It wasn't that at all. Remember that cool scene in the trailer where the guy was wearing a bear suit? Well, that scene sucked in the movie. Same with the scene where Matt Damon was talking about being a US Marshal. In the movie, he was a joke that was getting knocked around all over the place. I guess those who liked the movie were expecting a Coen Bros. film similar to Fargo in that it was as funny as it was serious. But I wasn't expecting that and I think a lot of others weren't expecting that either. They were expecting the dead seriousness of No Country For Old Men, and left the theater upset. I was definitely one of those people. True Grit was a total bore for me.
(Image taken from: brettkern.com)
But you know what surprisingly wasn't a total bore? Rango, which I'm now surprisingly in love with and think was an even better western than True Grit.
Now, before you start going on and on about how I'm an idiot and how Rango was merely paying tribute to all of the familiar western tropes, I just want to say that I know all that. I know Rango was just aping other westerns, and I don't care. What bothered me most about the story of True Grit is that it's not Rooster Cogburn's story, but rather, Mattie Ross'. Now, I don't know if the original movie's story is centered on her, too, since I know John Wayne was in that version, and John Wayne, who won an Oscar for the role, overshadows everybody else in all of his films. But I do know that if it was about Mattie Ross like the novel surely was, then I'm sure that that version sucked, too. And that's because Westerns, and I'm not trying to be a misogynist or anything like that, but Westerns are not meant to be about the women. They're meant to be about the men of the west and I think that's where Rango prevailed where True Grit faltered.
(Image taken from: rangotrailer.net)
I actually never really even liked Westerns until I took a college class on them, and the professor taught me that for it to be a genuine Western, then it typically followed three things. One, it had to feature a hero who had to prove something, not only to himself but to the whole community. Two, the big bad typically had to come to the town and the hero had to step up and defeat them (Though, the great, The Searchers follows a slightly different path, which is actually more similar to True Grit than anything else that I can think of). And three, there had to be some technological advancement--in most cases, it was the locomotive--that threatened to end the seclusion of the west and thus, the end of the cowboy. It was meant to be a morose transition, one of a dying breed of man. This last feature wasn't in all Westerns, but it definitely increased the significance of whatever film it was in.
Take for example a masterpiece like, High Noon, which has all three of those factors invovled. It truly feels like a Western and it is, and also so much more (Many say that there are ties to it critiquing the Red Scare that was going on at the time).
And you know what? Rango followed all those steps, too, making it, for me at least, superior to True Grit. I didn't go into the theater expecting to see a Western, but I saw one, and it was great. Rango was the reluctant hero who made a name for himself, while the big, bad and uglies came to take him down. There's even the theme of advancement as Las Vegas shines heavily in the backdrop (See the movie to understand).
It may not have been the most by the books Western--there's a cameo by Raul Duke and Dr. Gonzo from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in it--but it's definitely one of the more fun. So skip True Grit and watch Rango. That's really what's up.