Day 241: True Grit

Cover for True GritBest Book of the Week!
After the Coen brothers version of True Grit came out a couple of years ago, I became curious about the book. If you have seen that version of the movie, it is almost identical to the book and is much more faithful to it than the version from 1969 starring John Wayne.

For those who are not familiar with the plot, 14-year-old Mattie Ross travels into Indian Territory intending to track down her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney, a hired man who killed Mr. Ross for his extra horse. She looks for the U.S. marshall with the most grit and is pointed to the drunken Rooster Cogburn, who is reluctant to take on the job. She also meets a Texas Ranger named LaBeouf who is after Chaney for the murder of a Texas judge. Mattie is determined that the villain will hang for the murder of her father.

What makes True Grit unusual is the portrait of Mattie through her own words. She is indeed a unique character in fiction, scrappy, opinionated, tight with her money, not to be cheated, not to be turned from her self-imposed task, and tough as nails. Her narration drags us into the story and won’t let us go until it is over. This will be a quick read, because you won’t be able to put the book down.

The characters also speak in a stylized way using old-fashioned dialect that seems oddly formal and elaborate to our ears. It is expertly reproduced in the more recent movie.

If I can combine a book review and movie reviews, I have to say, “Sorry, John Wayne fans.” The Coen brothers movie starring Jeff Bridges is much better. I rented the 1969 version shortly after seeing the other movie and was surprised to see the contrast. Not only has the 1969 version been bowdlerized a bit, but the difference lies principally in the atmosphere created and the acting. The older movie is shot in standard western territory, probably in the hills of California, while the newer one is shot in a bleak landscape that makes us feel the danger and solitude.

As far as acting is concerned, Glenn Campbell as LaBeouf is pathetic as an actor, stiff and awkward. LaBeouf in the more recent version is played by Matt Damon, and I didn’t even recognize him for quite some time, so much does he submerge himself in his role. Although years ago I thought Kim Darby was good as Mattie, Hailee Steinfeld, acting at a younger age, is amazing. The older movie also minimizes but still fails to carry off the unusual style of dialog, coming off as stilted, whereas the newer movie embraces it.