‘Tis the Season for True Grit (2010)

I just got back from watching the Coen Brother’s True Grit, which is a great deal of fun, and, in a strange way, even a kind of “holiday” movie, with its scenes of snowy weather and fat men with impressive beards (not many red suits or ho-ho-hos though). It even has a special holiday message. As Rooster Cogburn comments, “If a man wants a decent burial, he oughtn’t get himself killed in the winter.” Sure, not your usual seasonal greeting, but  a good point, and one that is effectively driven home by the image of several corpses propped up against a wall, as snow falls on the bodies and on the ground that is too frozen to dig. Part of the dark humor of the film, it seems to me, is in thinking about it as commenting on its own Christmas time release date by combining such holiday staples as gently falling snow with scenes of violent death.

Somewhat surprisingly to me, True Grit (2010) corresponds fairly closely with the John Wayne True Grit, at least in terms of plot events and other incidents. Although the new TG is pointedly not a remake of the earlier film, the similarities suggest how closely both scripts follow the original novel. One of the key differences is that TG 2010 follows the novel in adapting a framing device of having the older Mattie Ross narrate the film’s events via an opening and closing voiceover. And the final scene shows us Mattie 25 years later, one arm amputated (Mattie in TG 1969 survives a rattlesnake bite with no loss of limb), and arriving too late to see Rooster Cogburn one more time.

The new TG is also faster paced, funnier, and better acted than the earlier film. Replacing Glen Campbell with Matt Damon as LaBoeuf is in itself enough to ensure a better job of acting, and both Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hallie Steinfeld as Mattie Ross are terrific. Mattie is a wonderful character, and if her major characteristics in TG 1969 were her strong will, intelligence, and quick tongue, she retains those qualities in the TG 2010 and is allowed to go further in terms of the film’s action. Her foiling of the ferryman at the river crossing is more effectively realized (she bops him in the head with an apple and makes her escape), and her crossing of the river on the back of Little Blackie is more spectacular than in the earlier film. Also, whereas LaBoeuf is the one who blocks the chimney of the cabin in the earlier film, here Mattie takes part directly in the action by climbing on to the cabin roof to block the smoke. The only real complaint I have about the movie is that Steinfeld’s name is listed so far down in the credits, after both Josh Brolin and Ned Pepper (neither of whom have much more than five minutes of screen time).

I would love to hear what other people thought about the film.


13 Responses to “‘Tis the Season for True Grit (2010)”

  1. Anne L Kaufman Says:

    headed to see this on Saturday!

  2. Anne L Kaufman Says:

    Now I’ve seen the film, and I agree that it was fun — especially to see Matt Damon leaving Jason Bourne behind for a familiar Coen Brothers idiot-with-delusions-of-grandeur, and to watch Jeff Bridges chewing up the script. The young woman who played Mattie was impressive indeed, and held her own against the big names. I was sorry, though, that the Coens seemed to set aside their usual edgy viewpoint …

  3. Fenimore Says:

    It was wonderful to hear Reno theatergoers at the late show, many of whom were in their 20s, so audibly appreciating the dialogue. They gave it a round of applause. I find myself disadvantaged for further discussion by not remembering much about the original nor having read the novel, but I sure enjoyed it despite being cranky because I barely made the opening credits with no time to purchase Milk Duds. I’d like Anne to expand on “edgy” …

  4. Fenimore Says:

    OK, now read Opinionator Stanley Fish’s review in the 12/28/10 New York Times, concluding with his thesis that “The new ‘True Grit’ is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.”

      • Michael K. Johnson Says:

        To pick up on one of Fish’s comments: ‘The springs of that universe are revealed to us by the narrator-heroine Mattie in words that appear both in Charles Portis’s novel and the two films, but with a difference. The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious. ‘

        As observed earlier, the movie is strangely appropriate for Christmas, appropriate in part because of what Fish calls the films religiosity, and strangely because of the doubleness of that religiosity. The final scenes in the primary narrative combine elements of the Christmas story with that of the crucifixion: Mattie’s stigmata (snakebite on the hand), the death of Little Blackie (a sacrifice so that another may live), the long journey through the night in search of shelter (with Matty and Rooster in the Mary and Joseph role), birth and crucifixion all rolled into one.

      • Fenimore Says:

        Not to mention the “Pieta” scene (more or less) at the end.

  5. Michael K. Johnson Says:

    I saw it in Tennessee at a matinee, and the audience was probably more in their 50s than 20s, but they responded much as the 20 somethings in Reno. There was a lot of laughter, especially during the early courtroom scene with Rooster. I made it to the theater in time to pick up a bag of popcorn, which I had almost finished (after 20 minutes of previews and commercials) before the film started. I wonder if I can find a “Little Fockers” free zone so that I never have to see another preview or commerical for that movie . . . .

  6. Aaron Hammers Says:

    True Grit has always had a close place in my heart, having watched the original countless times with my grandfather who is has been a John Wayne fan most of his life like many grandfathers I imagine? When I first saw the previews, I thought it was blasphemy that anyone would try and remake this movie, but the previews intrigued me and then I saw that the Coen brothers were making the film, so that changed my mind. I saw the movie this past weekend and I was very pleased. I wonder though did anyone notice that they actually combined dialog and scenes from the old True Grit and Rooster Cogburn movies, the scene with him Rooster drunk and shooting Chin Lee’s Corndodgers was from Rooster Cogburn although no reference is made to what they are in the new TG. Also when Rooster speaks of his ex wife that was also from Rooster Cogburn. I did miss him not having a cat in the new one, would have been nice to see General Boueregard Lee, the lazy orange tabby again.

    • westlitblogger Says:

      From what I’ve read, the Coen brothers did not look at the 1969 film (although both had seen in before) and based their take completely on the True Grit novel. I wonder if some of the material from the later Rooster Cogburn film (such as shooting the corndodgers) also came from the novel. The corndodgers shooting was a great scene, both comic and in its own way spectacular (Rooster filmed from a low angle, his coat swirling, as he draws and shoots), with nicely acerbic commentary from Mattie.

      • Johannes Says:

        I very much doubt that the Coens did not look at the 1969 film again, for the new version is very close to the older one. I particularly doubt it since the swimming through the river scene is so close to the older film (much closer than to the novel). There is even a quotation of the bad editing of the old movie when Mattie comes out of the river dripping wet and in the next shot is completely dry.
        The shooting at the corn dodgers scene is indeed from the novel, the narration is really amusing in that scene as Rooster and LaBoeuf fumble around and Mattie comments that their attempt at marksmanship was amusing to watch for a while but got old really fast.

  7. Sabine Barcatta Says:

    While the film is fresh in your minds, I’d like to add this announcement, which is to appear in our winter issue of WAL as well:

    From Raising Arizona to Fargo to The Big Lebowski, the Coen Brothers have created a diverse, yet oddly coherent vision of a postmodern West. With the critical success of No Country for Old Men and the recent release of True Grit, Western American Literature has decided it’s time to take a look at the significance of their representations of the spaces, landscapes, characters, and cultures of the West. Instead of a special issue, we would like to publish a speculative conversation about their work. We encourage WLA members to collaborate to present a panel at the Missoula conference, which we will tape and consider for publication.

    If interested, contact us at wal@usu.edu.

  8. tiffany Says:

    The new TG is good but not as fun as the John Wayne version, yes sometimes sticking to exactly what the book says works but not in this case-sometimes you have to take creative license to make the film version more enjoyable which Hathaway did with great effect in the 1969 version,
    I thought that Hailee did a good job but i think Kim Darby was overall better and ofcourse John wayne was way better as Rooster – as said before i was shocked and disapointed that they left out the cat and too little time was spent showing Rooster’s home life like in the original. A big shocker was that they did not show Tom Chainey kill Mattie’s dad like the original and lastly the music in the 1969 version and the scenery was way better – still it was OK

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