Sunday, January 2, 2011

True Grit

I saw the original 1969 version with John Wayne, Glenn Campbell and Kim Darby when I was 10 (makes me wonder if my mom KNEW my dad was taking me and my brother to see this film considering the violence and our tender years). I well remember it because of the shootout in the valley and the snakes.....

Last night I took my teens to see the 2010 remake which stars Jeff Bridges as Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. True Grit (2010) is faithful to Charles Portis' book of the same name which originally appeared as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post in 1968 but was reprinted in book form later on.

The story is told by spinster Mattie Ross who as a 14 year old girl goes after the murderer of her father, Frank Ross. Mattie and her family lived on a farm near Dardanell in Yell County, Arkansas. Her father hired Tom Chaney a drifter, to help with the farm. When Frank and Chaney travel to Fort Smith to purchase horses, Chaney turns on Ross and kills him, robbing him of $150 and two gold pieces. Chaney then flees into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).

When Mattie arrives in Fort Smith to claim her father's body she is determined to see justice done and to see Tom Chaney hang for the murder of her father. She learns that Chaney has joined the notorious Ned Pepper gang. Upon hearing that Rooster Cogburn is the toughest US Marshall in the area she manages to convince him to help her find Chaney. Mattie Ross is convinced Rooster Cogburn has "true grit" despite his appearance as a foul-mouthed, overweight, aging, drunkard who likes to shoot his quarry dead rather than bring them in alive. A Texas Marshall, La Beouf, joins Rooster and Mattie in the hunt for Tom Chaney as he is wanted in Texas for the murder of a Senator and his dog.

Without giving too much away, I thoroughly enjoyed this film which was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The pacing was better than the 1969 version and the film was more faithful to the book both in storyline and in setting. I also felt the quality of the acting was greatly improved and that comes as no surprise.The cast of True Grit (2010) was chock full of academy award winners and nominees that included Matt Damon as La Beouf and Bridges as Cogburn and Josh Brolin as Chaney. I was doubtful that Jeff Bridges would be a believable Rooster Cogburn but he did a much better job than John Wayne. And although I liked Kim Darby in the 1969 version of True Grit by the end of the movie her screaming was annoying. She also was 20 years old when she played 14 year old Mattie Ross. By contrast, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld was believable as 14 year old Mattie (partly because she was 14 when she filmed the movies) who had enough "grit" of her own!

True Grit (2010) like its literary counterpart was told from the point of view of Mattie and there's closure at the end that was lacking in the 1969 movie.

I highly recommend this film but I also encourage movie-goers to read the book. In Canada, this movie is rated 14A and rightly so. There is a great deal of violence and gore in parts of the movie and some swearing. Not for children under 14 to be sure.

For more information on the real Fort Smith and how realistic (or not) the 2010 version of True Grit and the novel are, check out this article by Jennifer Boulden

Here's the movie trailer:

The book by Charles Portis:

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