Thursday, March 1, 2012

True Grit (2010)

Release Date: 
22 Dec 2010 (USA)
(viewed SA 26 Feb 2012)
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen based on a novel by Charles Portis
Jeff Bridges
Hailie Steinfeld
Matt Damon

IMDb link and rating:

Plot Synopsis:
A young woman, determined to see her father’s killer brought to justice, enlists the aid of an unlikely hero.


Having watched this 2010 remake of True Grit just twenty-four hours after watching the 1969 original, I can scarcely avoid comparing the two. And in most of the head-to-head matchups of characters and details, the new film falls slightly short. It’s not that it’s bad--I enjoyed the movie--but there were a few differences that were conspicuous to me only because of the direct comparison.

The biggest of these was probably the script, which was considerably inferior in this remake. Paradoxically, it was the suprising fidelity to the original script throughout much of the film (whole stretches of dialogue seemed to be reproduced word for word) that made the missing details stand out in relief. It seemed like the Coen brothers had gone out of their way to remove details that were, if not exactly essential, at least important in fleshing out the characters. Lynne gave several examples of this below, all of which I agree with. One of the most important changes, which Lynne didn’t write but had pointed out to me while watching the film, was the fact that the remake presented revenge as Mattie’s motive--or at least treated revenge and justice interchangeably, blurred the distinction between the two--while the original made it clear that Mattie was interested only in justice.

I liked Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Mattie Ross, though her interpretation was significantly different than Kim Darby’s in the original. Miss Steinfeld’s Mattie was serious and sullen. Darby’s character was serious, too, but not sullen. Both conveyed Mattie’s courage and intensity very well, but in Darby’s character we suspect that under the layers there is a burning desire to live, while Steinfeld’s character suggests stoic resignation. (This is reinforced by the dreadful ending.)

One thing I liked better about this version of the film is Matt Damon’s portrayal of La Boeuf, compared to Glen Campbell’s in the original. He’s a little more mysterious and a little less foolish.

The film ended on a completely different chord than the original did--and that chord, frankly, was senselessly dissonant where the original was uplifting. Maybe that is simply the Hollywood formula nowadays: End on a bitter note to inject a bit of “realism,” lest the film be accused of melodrama or naive optimism. To me, that is just poor writing reflecting poor thinking.


It is much more difficult to rate this film on its own merit given that I watched and enjoyed the original so much more the night before.  Plainly, while the script and action veered only slightly from the original, I felt that in all but one minor case, those diversions detracted from the character of Mattie Ross.

Mattie2.0 was certainly as spirited and directed as the original Mattie; however, in giving us no clue as to her relationship with her father, the writers gave us no hint that her coldness in finding him dead is not a quirk of her personality. When she negotiates with the horse dealer, she comes back with documentation regarding the final agreed upon price rather than enter the negotiations all prepared. The original presentation of that scene shows not only her tremendous knowledge of horse dealing, but also her confidence in her abilities to reach that price.

The introduction to Cogburn’s Chinese store-owning friend is as the man who shows Mattie where Cogburn is sleeping in the back room rather than by Cogburn as his “family” as was in the original. Mattie’s meeting with the Texas Ranger, played well by Matt Damon, is much more threatening in this version, taking place in the bedroom, than funny as it was in the original. Mattie talks more of avenging her father’s death, than of justice.

Rooster Cogburn is still a drunkard and mean bounty hunter, but he leaves the dead thieves at the cabin rather than bringing them to the nearest outpost for burial as he did in the original. I think this detracts from his character.  While still an ancillary player, the Texas Ranger was a better developed character in this one and I appreciated his altered fate.

But the worst blow in this movie was the ending. Rather than left as steadfast, practical, and loving, Mattie is shown many years later as a bitter old woman. I found that to be an inexcusable betrayal of the indefatigable, plucky character I began to love in the original movie. 

Action Items:
Read the novel by Charles Portis. It may be that the 2010 version of the movie is closer to the author's story and the 1969 version is more to its director's liking. (L)

Supplementary Details: 
There was a noticeable increase in biblical references in this newer version and a noticeable absence of Mattie’s ruling philosophy. (L)

1 comment:

Lynne said...

It is worth noting that the 2010 script was actually closer to Charles Portis' original work. I don't think this means that the overall treatment of Mattie as sullen and eventually bitter is the same, just the action portrayed.

I'm sticking with Marguerite Roberts' (screenplay writer for 1969 movie) version of Mattie as the incomparable young heroine!