In 1969, True Grit was adapted for the screen as a Western film of the same name starring John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. Wayne reprised his role in 1975’s Rooster Cogburn. In 2010, a new adaptation was released. Also called True Grit, it was written and directed by the Coen brothers and starred Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn.
Portis’ novel is narrated by Mattie Ross, a thrifty, churchgoing spinster distinguished by a rare independence and strength of mind. As an old woman in the year 1928, she tells the story of her adventures many years earlier, when, at the age of fourteen, she undertook a quest to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney.
As Mattie’s tale begins, Chaney is employed on the Ross’ family farm in west-central Arkansas, near the town of Dardanelle in Yell County. Chaney is not adept as a farm hand, and Mattie has only scorn for him, referring to him as “trash”, and noting that her kind-hearted father, Frank, only hired him out of pity. One day, Frank Ross and Chaney go to Fort Smith to buy some horses. Ross takes $250 with him to pay for the horses, along with two gold pieces he always carried. He ends up spending only $100 on the horses. When Ross tries to intervene in a barroom confrontation, Chaney kills him, robs the body of the remaining $150 and two gold pieces, and flees into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) on his horse.
Hearing that Chaney has joined an outlaw gang led by the infamous “Lucky” Ned Pepper, Mattie wishes to track down the killer, and upon arriving at Fort Smith she looks for the toughest deputy Marshal in the district. That man turns out to be Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, and although he is an aging, one-eyed, overweight, trigger-happy man who seems to drink too much, Mattie is convinced that he has “grit”, and that he is best suited for the job.
Playing on Cogburn’s need for money, Mattie persuades him to take on the job, insisting that, as part of the bargain, she accompany him. During their preparation a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf appears. He too is tracking Chaney for killing a senator and his dog in Texas, and hopes for glory and a big cash reward. Cogburn and La Boeuf develop a dislike for each other, but after some haggling, they agree to join forces in the hunt. The two men attempt to leave Mattie behind, but she proves more tenacious and resourceful than they had expected, and eventually she becomes an accepted member of their posse.
Together, but with very different motivations, the three ride into the wilderness to confront Ned Pepper’s gang. Along the way, they develop an appreciation for one another.
I loved both films. My take on “True Grit” is John Wayne’s film was great and had more of a clean appearance. It was produced in a less violent manner than the Jeff Bridge’s film. Wayne was the ultimate cowboy. You could believe he was Rooster and a United States Marshal. I did not care for Glen Campbell as La Boeuf in the first film. Glen is a good singer, but a weak actor. Matt Damon did a great job in the second True Grit. He seemed to become the ranger. He also made some comedy in the role. Kim Darby as Mattie Ross was a good choice in Wayne’s film. She was very convincing. Hailee Steinfeld, a deadly serious 14-year-old Mattie Ross is equal to the star Jeff Bridges in her acting debut.
When you see Jeff in his bed, wearing nasty long johns, with an unshaven face, dirty and drunk, I can believe he was a drunk, dirty cowboy with TRUE GRIT!
If you have the money, go see True Grit. Its Gritty, tough, dark and occasionally humorous, this story of frontier justice is one of the year’s best films.