A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
There is a moment in "True Grit" when John Wayne and four or five bad guys confront each other across a mountain meadow. The situation is quite clear: Someone will have to back up or die.
Director Henry Hathaway pulls his telephoto lens high up in the sky, and we see the meadow isolated there, dreamlike and fantastic. And then we're back down on the ground, and with a growl Wayne puts his horse's reins in his teeth, takes his rifle in one of his hands and a six-shooter in the other and charges those bad guys with all barrels blazing. As a scene, it is not meant to be taken seriously.
The night I saw a sneak preview, the audience laughed and even applauded. This was the essence of Wayne, the distillation. This was the moment when you finally realized how much Wayne had come to mean to you. I have on occasion disliked his movies, most particularly "The Green Berets." But Wayne has a way of surmounting even bad movies, and in 40 years he has also made a great many good ones. In the early ones, like "The Quiet Man" or "The Long Voyage Home," he was simply an actor or simply a star. But long before many of us were born, John Ford began to sculpture the actor and the star into the presence. Today there is no actor in movies who is more an archetype.
One of the glories of "True Grit" is that it recognizes Wayne's special presence. It was not directed by Ford (who in any event probably couldn't have been objective enough about Wayne), but it was directed by another old Western hand, Hathaway, who has made the movie of his lifetime and given us a masterpiece. This is the sort of film you call a movie, instead of the kind of movie you call a film.