Ed Corbin's "bear man" in True Grit

Posted by jdg | 12:27 PM |

I saw the Coen brothers' version of True Grit for the second time recently, and was once again deeply impressed by the minute or so that character actor Ed Corbin appears on screen as Forrester, the wilderness dentist and doctor dressed wearing a bearskin coat. It's the best thing I've seen since Will Greer's amazing performance as "Bear Claw" Chris Lapp in Jeremiah Johnson. For those who haven't seen True Grit, Forrester appears in a snowstorm while Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross wait for a man they believe is following them to appear along the trail. But it's not who they think it is. The Coen brothers' traditional style is pretty subtle in this film, and that only makes this quintessentially-Coen moment all the more extraordinary. Forrester slowly rides towards Rooster and Mattie wearing a bear-skin coat complete with the bear's head, making it appear as though a grizzly bear is riding towards them on a horse. Oh, and he's got the corpse Mattie just cut out of a tree slung over his second horse. It's unnerving and strangely beautiful. Oh hell, I'll just create an animated GIF:


Enhancing that moment is Corbin's performance. He speaks in this extraordinary drawl that is somehow kindly and gentle through that mountain man beard and tells the duo that he "practices dentistry in the [Choctaw] nation; also the veterinary arts, and medicine on those humans that will sit still for it."

 
In this article, Corbin talks about how he developed Forrester's signature cadence: "I really slowed it down in one take. I was just relishing every syllable. They didn't yell 'Cut,' but after we finished the scene, I think it was Ethan who stood up and said 'Ed, that is great, but there are other scenes in the movie."'


You can really tell how the Coens and Corbin must have given this character such an incredible, unexplored back story. As good as the movie is, you almost wish the camera followed Forrester rather than Rooster and Maddie. The old west was a place where any American could leave the social confines of the east and reinvent themselves, either in the wilderness or the emerging archipelago of European civilization in the mountains and prairies. It is easy to imagine that a wild character like Forrester could have been real, or perhaps that there were plenty of characters even crazier than him that we'll never even know about.

Anyway, it's my favorite scene from the movies this year. I don't care what Mila Kunis can do with her tongue.


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