It seems I’m quite the fan of western remakes. I like a traditional feeling western story, but the bonus of modern adaptations is they seem to have a grittier (ha!) feel somehow. I knew that True Grit was a remake of a John Wayne film of the same name from 1969, but what I didn’t realise is that both were adapted from a book by Charles Portis. This Coen brothers version is meant to be closer to Portis’ original story, and a bit darker and more violent than the previous film. (I actually didn’t realise I’d ever seen the John Wayne version, until I recognised a quite iconic horse riding scene towards the end of the 2010 version).
True Grit is the story of a young teenager named Mattie Ross who takes it upon herself to hire a US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to find her father’s murderer. They are accompanied on their quest by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants to try the murderer Tom Chaney in Texas for a separate crime. There are lots of drunken arguments along the way, with many shots of riding through deserts and typical western style violence – lots of shoot outs, and people being dragged from their horses and the like.
I did enjoy True Grit, it was surprisingly funny and I like a shoot out as much as the next person, but it did have some disappointing aspects too. For a start, I often found it hard to work out exactly what Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon were saying. I’m not sure if that was Jeff Bridges himself or the fact that he was playing a constant drunk, but I really had to concentrate during his dialogue. I remember that being a common complaint when the film first came out in 2011, but at times I actually found Matt Damon harder to understand, especially after a scene in which he’d bitten through his tongue and then became virtually unintelligible. (Ironically, despite two of the leads mumbling throughout, the film was nominated for several ‘best sound mixing’ awards).
I also found the ending really unsatisfactory. I was hoping after twenty five years that there’d be a happy reunion for Mattie and Rooster, but after finally receiving a letter telling her of his whereabouts, Mattie arrives to discover Rooster had died three days previously. She then mentions, almost in passing, about how she never saw LaBoeuf again either. It’s disappointing, because their adventures would have had a big impact on all of them (especially Mattie who was only fourteen at the time, and suffered life-changing injuries to boot), so to never see each other again afterwards seems kind of cold and unusual (although perhaps fitting considering how Rooster and LaBoeuf were both such cantankerous men, and Mattie only a child). I think it was the original ending from Charles Portis’ book though, so the Coens were portraying his story faithfully.
I thought Hailee Steinfeld was great playing Mattie. For a young girl to be able to take on a lead role and give such strong characterisation to her part is especially impressive when you consider that this was her first ever film role. She more than held her ground beside Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. At the end of the day, True Grit is Mattie’s story more than anyone else’s, and that came across really clearly in Hailee’s scenes. I’d be intrigued to read Charles Portis’ novel now, to see if Mattie really was such a pint-sized force to be reckoned with as the film makes out. Either way, Hailee Steinfeld was fully deserving of the praise she received (even if the character of Mattie did drive you mad and want to give her a LaBoeuf style spanking at times).