Easily my favorite western, True Grit is a story of perseverance and justice the likes of which I have yet to see in the genre. Based on Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, both the 1969 film and the 2010 remake have their strong points and are so similar that I had to include them together (same as my post for A Christmas Carol; the poem pretty much covers any version).
The 1969 True Grit has always been a staple in my house. As evidenced by his lone Best Actor Oscar win, John Wayne found his best role as larger-than-life, trigger-happy, one-eyed marshal and “fat old man” Rooster Cogburn. Kim Darby occasionally overacts, but she displays Mattie’s fierce resolve while remaining appropriately girlish. Many have decried Glen Campbell’s performance as LaBoeuf, criticism I believe he didn’t deserve. While he’s not what I would call a skilled actor, there’s nothing particularly distracting or dreadful about his performance. Besides, when you consider that Elvis Presley was the original choice for LaBoeuf, Campbell seems even more preferable. The Colorado scenery is stunning, and Rooster’s exhilarating charge against Ned Pepper’s gang is (or should be) as iconic a gunfight as any filmed.
As for the 2010 remake by the Coen brothers, it’s basically the same story with different actors, and the latter half from Mattie’s confrontation with Chaney to her rescue is more or less identical in both versions, though some earlier scenes were unnecessarily drawn out. While most of the events are perfectly recognizable, the film as a whole has a much more serious, pitiless, and…gritty tone. Though there is more language and violence, as I would expect from a modern-day remake, the Coens’ film also carries more Biblical messages and a melancholy score imbued with haunting hymns. Considering the often satirical and strange content of other Coen films, True Grit is one of their most restrained and sincere works, with mere glimpses of their comedic voice. Though I have not read the book, I’ve heard the remake is closer in tone and plot to Portis’s novel; the screenplay succeeds in reflecting both the author and the directors, with peculiarly worded dialogue like “I’m puzzled by this” and “You give out very little sugar with your pronouncements.”
My VC considers the 1969 True Grit sacred territory, like The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind, a film that could never be matched by any remake. I, however, found the remake almost as good as the original. As excellent as Jeff Bridges is as Rooster Cogburn, with more uncouth ways and a more gravelly voice, John Wayne is untouchable and remains the main reason I prefer the first film. His delivery of lines like “Fill your hand, you son of a b****” carry so much more force and vitality than Bridges’. There’s a reason Wayne won Best Actor, while Bridges was only nominated (though he had won the previous year for Crazy Heart).
On the other hand, I prefer Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf over Glen Campbell’s; Damon gives him more personality, though his separations from Mattie and Rooster seemed unnecessary. Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld acts more mature as the 2010 Mattie, but she’s more or less on par with Darby, in my opinion. (It’s interesting to note that the role of the ill-fated Moon in the violent dugout scene seems to go to up-and-coming stars. Dennis Hopper played the boy in the original, and though Domhnall Gleeson wasn’t well-known in the 2010 version, he soon will be from his inclusion in J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars sequel next year.) Overall, both films boast an exemplary cast that put them on almost even footing.
The Coens’ film may be more artistic and realistic (the flat prairie setting is more as Oklahoma should look than the mountainous vistas of the original film), but the 1969 version is more enjoyable to watch. Even with the onscreen death of a major character, John Wayne’s greatest film ends on an uplifting “Yee haw” note rather than the somber narration of the remake and book. Both are excellent, but John Wayne tips the scale with the culminating performance of his career.
Best line from 1969: (Mattie) “You are too old and fat to be jumping horses.” (Rooster, before proceeding to jump a fence) “Well, come see a fat old man some time!”
Best line from 2010: (Mattie’s narration, referring to Chaney’s crime) “You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”Rank: 57 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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