True Grit

January 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm (Uncategorized)

I can’t remember how old I was when I saw the 1969 version of True Grit starring John Wayne. My guess would be around ten, but I loved the film. I hadn’t come to realize the role Wayne played in American culture, and even though he wasn’t my favourite cowboy, the story seemed perfect. (I didn’t really know who Glen Campbell was either, but I digress).

When I heard the Coen brothers were remaking the movie, I wondered why. Yes, yes, they’re brilliant, but a re-make is quite often not the mark of brilliance, and especially when it is the case of an already celebrated film, it seems unnecessary.

In the build-up to the release of the movie, I read several articles about True Grit’s  author Charles Portis. Intrigued, I borrowed the book from the local library. It’s a great book, narrated by an older Mattie Ross who relates the story of her adventure with Marshal Rooster Cogburn in the pursuit of her father’s murderer. It’s a great book, which strives for an authentic western voice. The language would no doubt upset those who would re-write Huckleberry Finn, but it seems true to the characters, none of who are particularly likeable, and yet we eventually come to care for them. It’s a story of revenge, but also containing humour, and ultimately compassion and even redemption.

So when I saw the film, starring Jeff Bridges as Cogburn, Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, I was pleasantly surprised how faithful the new version was to the original novel. While some events are condensed, there is only one significant change in the film (LaBoeuf does not leave before the final confrontation with Pepper’s gang), and much of the book’s dialogue is retained for the film. The only invention is the mysterious bear-skin wearing dentist which indicates that yes, you’re still watching a Coen brothers film, even if is it more of a crowd pleaser than usual.

A great couple of hours.


Shortly after I wrote the above, I read Frank Rich’s column in the New York Times which compares the two movies to each other and to The Social Network, and looks at the old and new Americas in these movies.


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