A Movie the Way a Book Should Be Made: True Grit

You probably saw True Grit in theatres back in 1969, or at least on cable during the intervening 40 years. At the time, the aging John Wayne was seeking out roles that he could comfortably occupy, and the film industry awarded him with his only Oscar® during the 1970 awards ceremony. But in 1968, Charles Portis provided the skeleton for that film with his aptly titled novel … yes, you guessed it: True Grit.

True Grit
Charles Portis Rides Again

Wayne’s film is not the equal of the new Coen Brothers iteration of the novel, which hews tightly to the dialogue offered up by Portis. Jeff Bridges (with eyepatch covering the right eye where Wayne covered the left), inhabits the role of U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn. Hailee Steinfeld reprises Kim Darby’s 1969 role of Mattie Ross, and Matt Damon fills in as LeBouef, the Texas Ranger played by Glen Campbell in the first film.

The movie itself has a relaxed intensity. That is, Portis’s intention was to deliver a story about Mattie more than a story about Rooster, and the Coens allow that to come through in the new film without sacrificing Portis’s incisive comic touches. For Rooster Cogburn, very little ruffles him, and this rubs off on the 14-year-old Mattie, too, so that violence and death are not unexpected things for either of them, though Mattie is forced to face a few shocking moments. It is a small story well told.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes for and awards the Golden Globes, do not seem to care for the work of Joel and Ethan Coen, and the 2010 movie received no Golden Globe nominations. That will not be true for the Academy Awards® next month, and maybe Portis will earn some reflected glory in the adapted screenplay category. A nomination seems likely for the movie, the actors, the technical crew, and the writers, and who knows?

May I suggest that you pick up a copy of True Grit whether you’ve seen the movies or not? I recommend it.

True Grit
by Charles Portis
Penguin PB, 1968, reprinted 2010


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