I love the performances of John Wayne and Robert Duvall in Henry Hathaway's classic Western True Grit.
John Wayne manages to simultaneously pander to those who are critical of his earlier Western performances by giving them a "clownish" version of his hero archetype, while bringing a genuine depth of character and emotion to the role. He would expand on this deep performance later in The Shootist where he will leave behind the clown and reveal the strength of performance that had always been the staple of a Wayne role. Wayne's characters had never really been as mockable as his critics wanted them to be, and his portrayal of a clownish version followed by a return to form eviscerates his earlier critics.
Duvall is..well...Duvall. He is a powerful actor to watch and his performance as the nihilistic Ned Pepper is perfect. He delivers frightening lines with a dead pan that demonstrates the character's dissociation from the rest of humanity. Duvall's Pepper is the Nietzschian Overman, he is beyond good and evil and is an expression of Will. His character is a sharp contrast to the classical virtue of Wayne's Cogburn, a character who appears to be filled with vice but in the end has "True Grit."
Glen Campbell is passable in his performance. He neither adds nor detracts from the mood of the film and presents the flashy false hero with some charm. He is the man that everyone believes is the hero because he is handsome and apparently forthright. He is almost too good to be true, but in the end what the cynical may have viewed as illusion is revealed to be true. His heroism isn't false, it is as real as Cogburn's.
Kim Darby's performance as young Mattie Ross is the weakest link in the film, and I've always found it hard to empathize with her character -- even given her compelling mission. She has always come across as more bratty than determined. If a director were to attempt to remake the film, it is this performance that I would seek to change and use as the basis for new interpretation.
It appears that is exactly what the Coen Brothers have done in their upcoming version of the tale. That is, if the teaser trailer is any indication.
I couldn't ask for a better choice of Cogburn than Jeff Bridges, though this will make two Jeff Bridges Christmas must see movies for me this year, and Matt Damon in the Glen Campbell role seems appropriate. Casting Josh Brolin as the dastardly Tom Chaney implies that the film will be darker and the character sterner than the Hathaway version. When I read that Barry Pepper was cast as Ned Pepper, the image seemed as natural as the sharing of last names. Barry Pepper has a likability, akin to Duvall's, that will allow for a wonderfully sinister Ned Pepper.
I wouldn't have thought I could be excited about a remake of True Grit, but then I never would have guessed it would be the Coen Brothers making it.