20 or so years ago with Unforgiven Clint Eastwood reinvented the Western. The film was his attempt to introduce gritty, violent realism into the genre that he had made much of his reputation in with films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly that weren’t exactly sanitized but which presented more idealistic and entertaining versions of the old west. He was taking aim not only at his own filmography but the entire history of the genre, including the films of film icon John Wayne, who was synonymous with westerns throughout his career.
One of Wayne’s most notable roles, the only one to earn him an Academy Award, was as Marshall Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Now, over 40 years since that film’s release, a new version of True Grit is hitting theaters.
This one, not a remake of the Wayne movie but a more literal adaptation of the original novel, comes via the Coen Brothers and stars frequent Coen collaborator Jeff Bridges in the role of Cogburn. The story follows a young girl named Mattie Ross (Hallee Steinfeld), who is seeking vengeance for the murder of her father by a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Looking to bring him to justice, Ross enlists Cogburn to hunt Chaney down and bring him in. As they follow Chaney’s trail they come across a Texas Ranger named simply LaBeouf (Matt Damon) who gets involved in the hunt himself.
The movie’s first poster is, well, kind of awesome. Designed to look like the kind of announcement sheet you’d see on a saloon door, it has almost nothing but the actor’s names as well as those of the Coens and the title of the movie. About the only other thing here is the copy “Retribution” at the bottom, something that also appears in the first trailer, and “Punishment comes one way or another” at the top.
Such a simply and stylized one-sheet really sells the movie to the audience that matters and how different it is makes it likely to at the very least get people’s attention as they’re walking down the theater hallway. It’s fantastic.
Four very cool character one-sheets were released later on, each featuring one of the main characters from the film, each one standing in front of a plain wooden wall. Each one also continues to use “Punishment” and “Retribution” on them and feature the same font that was used on the first poster, giving them a consistent look.
A later theatrical one-sheet took the images from all those character posters and put them together, with the whole cast looking out at us, Bridges and Damon more or less in the foreground and Stasfield and Brolin toward the back. The poster makes a point of selling the fact that this comes from the Coens as a major point of attraction for the audience to latch on to and also continues the highlighting of the fact that “retribution” and “punishment” are coming at you.
The first trailer certainly gave the audience a sense of the story and tone.
It opens by showing young Mattie setting out after the murder of her father to find someone that can help her avenge that murder. She enlists Cogburn, who winds up accompanying her on her journey of vengeance.
That’s about all the story, though. The rest of the spot is filled with gunfights and horse riding, with brief glimpses of Damon and Brolin, though there’s no clear identification of who their characters are. What there’s plenty of, though, is a clear sense of violence. We see men dropping from the gallows, people swinging axes, someone being tossed down a well and more grizzly acts.
Overall it’s an effective introduction to the movie, especially to anyone who’s already a fan of the Coens and their propensity toward stories of people being really horrible to each other.
A longer version of the trailer was reported to be playing in theaters at the same time that first version was released online.
That full-length trailer will, quite frankly, knock your socks off.
First we meet Cogburn, who is testifying as to the extent of his body count, which is apparently sizable. We then see Mattie enlist him for her quest for vengeance and along the way we also meet the Texas marshall played by Damon, who is on the same trail as Cogburn.
This trailer shows that a good amount of the drama comes when Mattie is kidnapped by the same man they’re all hunting, leading to Cogburn and the marshall putting the wrath of God down on them.
This trailer shows a lot more of the movie’s attitude and spirit, though, and so works a lot better (which is saying something considering how good the teaser was) in conveying the whole story, including giving us more background on Cogburn and Damon’s marshall.
The movie’s official website is a simple, stripped down one. It opens with the same image that was used on the teaser poster and which has been used in other advertising before giving way to opening the “Video” section, the first on the site’s menu, and playing the first trailer. Also in that section you’ll find the second trailer as well as three TV Spots.
“Photography” has eight stills from the film and when you mouseover the full photo it gives you the option to download that image as a desktop wallpaper, which is a nice way to combine those two things.
“Reviews & Accolades” has a long list of publications that have already published reviews of the movie along with pull quotes from those reviews. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, there aren’t links to read the reviews in their entirety.
Most of the aspects of the film’s production are covered in the various sections of “Story,” including an overview of the characters and cast and information on the costumes and other production elements. There’s also a nice section on Portis, the novel’s author, that introduces us to the man behind the story.
Profiles of the talent involved can be found in the “Cast and Filmmakers” section.
The movie’s Facebook page is pretty simple, with updates on the movie’s marketing and promotional activity, a collection of the character posters (though none of the usual stills that are found on other pages), videos and a collection of quotes from early reviews of the film.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A bit of TV advertising was done that played up the revenge nature of the story, mostly showing how the young girl enlists Bridges’ Marshall and the search for her father’s killer. There’s only a little bit of either Damon or Brolin, just enough to make everyone’s aware they’re in the movie and have a brief understanding of what their role there is. Most of the spots follow the same rough arc (though it’s obviously condensed) as the theatrical trailer and they work for many of the same reasons. There’s a little less character development about them, again because of the running time differences, but they work at selling the movie as an old-west revenge movie with some eccentric performances.
Outdoor advertising was done as well that I came across, including a huge ad that featured the same art as the first poster that was on display at O’Hare Airport when I was there a couple weeks prior to release.
Media and Publicity
Before filming even started there was a bit of publicity resulting from the announcement an open casting call would be held for the part of the daughter of the sheriff in the story, clearly an attempt to find an unknown who could come to the part with no audience baggage. Those interested in auditioning were directed to a website where they could get more information.
The fact that the studio was holding back the movie until late in the became news (The Hollywood Reporter, 10/7/10) as the fall kicked in to gear, though the fact that the finished product wasn’t locked in until mid-November makes that not all that surprising.
Steinfeld got profiled (NY Mag, 11/23/10) since she’s the big unknown in the movie and is being pegged as a breakout star from it. Other looks at the budding young actress followed as release got closer (LAT, 12/21/10) looking at how she handled herself on a set full of veteran actors and amidst such heavy material.
Of course since this was a new version of a movie originally starring John Wayne was a core focus of much of the press (New York Times, 12/4/10). It’s not a remake of that movie since, according to the Coens, they didn’t rewatch that movie but instead went straight back to the source book. But still the comparisons, particularly between Wayne’s and Bridges’ performances, were inevitable and even the cast and crew were compelled to comment on how their movie was based on the original book and not the movie repeatedly (Los Angeles Times, 12/12/10).
The author of that book, Charles Portis, was the subject of a story (NYT, 12/21/10) that looked not only at the two adaptations of his novel but also at his life as someone who’s not exactly yearning for the spotlight.
This is a fantastic campaign for the latest movie from the Coens that never gives in to the temptation, which would be easy when dealing with these filmmakers, to wink at the audience. While the movie may be slyly and darkly comic (that’s how the book is often described) the campaign here presents a more or less straightforward Western. If that comic tone has been carried over to the movie that’s not going to be a startling surprise for the audience since they’re less likely to be disappointed by a few unexpected laughs than when movies are sold as comedies but then turn out to be largely depressing.
The marketing is also just nicely consistent and interesting, with that “Retribution” theme being hit over and over again by all the campaign’s individual components. The same look and feel and brand assets are carried over from one area to the other and so audiences are going to immediately recognize it wherever and whenever they encounter a bit of the marketing. My feeling is that not only will this appeal to fans of the Coen Brothers but might even become a late year crossover mainstream hit.