True Grit is one of the most well-known western stories for a good reason.
There are two different films: the original made in 1969 (directed by Henry Hathaway) and the remake made in 2010 (directed by Ethan and Joel Coen).
Both films are based on a novel by the same name written by Charles Portis in 1968. The Coen brothers’ version is the most faithful to the book.
The story in both films is about a 14-year-old girl named Mattie Ross (played by Kim Darby in the original and Hailee Steilnfeld in the remake) hiring a one-eyed U.S. marshal with a drinking problem named Rooster Cogburn (originally played by legendary wild west actor John Wayne, and Jeff Bridges in the remake. In other words, it’s The Duke vs The Dude.)
Mattie hires the marshal to go after her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (played by Jeff Corey and Josh Brolin), who’s fled into Indian territory.
Together they are joined by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (played by Glen Cambell and Matt Damon).
The ‘69 version labors against technical limitations like obvious backdrops or scenes that are meant to be set in dusk, but were clearly filmed during the day and just had a dark filter played over it. And the dialogue features some colorful phrases we don’t use anymore.
Otherwise, the film has aged pretty well.
The actors (for the most part) do a very good job portraying their characters.
Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in True Grit (2010).
John Wayne, despite being a flawed human being in real life, is never not cool whenever he’s on screen, even though he’s just playing John Wayne. However, there’s a reason he got away with it, and that’s because he did so well.
Rooster Cogburn, even though he’s, as the film calls him, “a one-eyed fat man” always has this presence as a tough guy who you wouldn’t want to mess around with if you don’t want a few more holes added to your chest.
Darby expertly portrays a headstrong girl, who’s clearly wise beyond her years, but doesn’t really know what she’s getting into, while at the same time portraying the character’s vulnerable moments realistically.
Cambell, while a bit wooden at points, does well as the Texas ranger who desperately wants to be taken seriously.
And Jeff Corey is great as the drunkard Tom Chaney. He plays him off so pathetic that it kind of brings into question if killing him is worth it.
Most surprisingly, Robert Duvall shows up halfway through the film as Tom Chaney’s boss, “Lucky” Ned Pepper. Duvall obviously does a great job of giving the character presence and charisma.
The story is admittedly nothing special, but it’s clearly not trying to be deep, it’s trying to tell a simple, if fun story with unforgettable characters.
The 2010 film is very similar to the original film, with whole scenes copy and pasted onto this newer version. Despite that there are some key differences, mainly the characters, a darker tone, and the ending which I won’t spoil.
Rooster Cogburn is still a one-eyed fat man with a strong penchant for drinking. However, Jeff Bridges’ version is a lot meaner and scarier. To give an example when John Wayne gets drunk it’s funny or charming, but when Jeff Bridges gets drunk, it’s scary.
Hailee Steinfelds’ Mattie is the little girl version of a terminator; nothing is going to get in her way, she’s going to get her father’s killer or she is going to die trying. While this makes her a little bit less realistic, it makes up for that by making her a more interesting character.
Matt Damon’s LeBoeuf isn’t too different from the ‘69 original; however in this version, he seems to be a little more incompetent and a lot more impatient with Cogburn’s constant drunken tirades. This is a clever change because it adds a new dynamic to his relationship with other leads.
Josh Brolin does well as Tom Chaney, though Chaney does not come off as pathetic as he was in the original.
That change doesn’t work as well compared to the original because in the original it actually brought into question whether just killing him is worth it.
Barry Pepper is fine as “Lucky” Ned Pepper (no relation.) Though due to the original being played by Robert Duvall, Barry’s version never stood a chance to beat the original.
The ending in this version is very different from the original. Again, no spoilers, but the original had your standard Hollywood ride off into the sunset ending.
In the remake it’s much darker, not that it’s bleak, it’s just a lot more realistic on what going through all those events would probably do to a 14-year-old girl.
Both films, while different tonally and ending wise, are still very good westerns and are definitely worth the watch.