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**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
I have a confession to make, westerns are not my favorite genre. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great ones out there, I just tend to find them on the boring side. Now, you might be wondering why I chose to pick a book that has two westerns I would have to watch. And if I’m being honest, part of the reason was because the book was short. I also really did want to watch the 2010 True Grit though, I saw it in theaters with my dad and haven’t seen it since then. Though after watching it a second time, I now know why I never watched it a second time up until now. Not because it’s a bad movie, but like I said, westerns just aren’t a favorite. So, just a little disclaimer.
Anyway, if you don’t know the story of True Grit-here is a synopsis!
Frank Ross is unarmed when he is killed by a drunken hired hand. His 14 year old daughter takes it upon herself to see that the law catches the man who did it-Tom Chaney. She finds U.S. Marshal ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, whom she hears as being a tough, no nonsense man who has true grit. While still in town a Texas ranger names LaBoeuf comes to town and tells them that he is also looking for Chaney because he killed a Texas senator. Mattie doesn’t like LaBeouf, and Cogburn and LaBoeuf tell Mattie she can’t come along because she doesn’t realize what she’s getting into.
However, the morning they set off, she joins them and shows she won’t take no for an answer. After riding a long while, and having a run-in with some bandits, they keep going till Cogburn says they are four miles from where Chaney is along with the bandit Lucky Ned Pepper whom Chaney is with. They settle in for the night with plans to cover the next few miles in the morning and catch them.
The next morning Mattie goes down to a stream and who does she find there-none other than Tom Chaney! She shoots him in the ribs, but he is able to hit her with a large piece of wood. Summarizing things-Chaney and the guys he’s with take Mattie hostage. Than the men Chaney was with leave him behind with her-the leader of the gang not caring what happens to either one. Cogburn had set up an ambush wherein Chaney is again shot by Mattie, Cogburn gets shot and LaBoeuf gets hit in the head, then Mattie falls in a pit with rattlesnakes. After all this no one dies, however at some point while in the pit, they finish the job on Chaney and rescue Mattie. Cogburn save the near dying Mattie (she has a broken arm and a rattlesnake bite) and gets her to town where she is saved, and LaBoeuf takes the dead body of Chaney to Texas. The three of them never see each other again, though she hears about his death a couple decades later. He didn’t have family, so Mattie pays to have his body brought to Arkansas, where she lives, and has him reburied there.
Thoughts on Book
I enjoyed the book well enough. It is written in a very straight forward way-Mattie isn’t one of embellish on the facts. Her character can get annoying at time, specifically in the beginning when she arrives at Fort Smith. She is just kind of a know-it-all teenager, threatening her lawyer on everyone. However, I liked her more as time went on. Of course, by the end, you learn that Cogburn has grit, but Mattie was the one with ‘true grit’.
It’s a quick read, you could finish it in one day without a problem. I liked that Portis didn’t drag things on more than necessary. I also liked that she a Cogburn (and LaBoeuf) don’t remain lifelong friends or something. I think that would have been too cheesy. It seems very realistic that they would lose contact.
There have been two movie adaptations, the first (which I had never seen) was released in 1969-just one year after the release of the book! The second was released in 2010. As I said above, I saw the 2010 version in theaters with my dad, and despite liking it, I hadn’t watched it a second time till now. I’ll go chronologically and talk about the ’69 version first, followed by ’10.
John Wayne is someone I have never thought of as a great actor. He’s very one note. Although there are actors out there that play the same role in every movie, yet I like the kind of person they play so I don’t mind. Guess I’m just not a fan of the big tough cowboy. Maybe I will seek out some of his more popular movies and give him a chance. I do remember liking The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance when I was younger, but that was probably because Jimmy Stewart was my favorite actor back then. Anyway, he plays Rooster Cogburn, and actually, I can’t say I have many complaints with his acting. Some of the others could be a bit wooden, but I though he was fine, up until the end, which was a bit cheesy for my taste. Another side note, in the book Cogburn was in his 40s, Wayne is 60 in the movie though.
Glen Campbell was a popular country singer, and it was customary back then that every movie have a theme song written for the movie. (Whenever you watch an older movie, notice there is always a song written specifically for that movie, and is usually played during the credits. Mostly with movies made in the 60’s). The director hired Campbell so that he could also write the song. Hathaway didn’t like his acting, and I would agree that his portrayal of LaBoeuf is just alright.
Kim Darby was 23 when she played Mattie. Prior to watching the movie, I read different behind the scenes info and I read that people also complained about her acting. I actually thought she did fine, but maybe that’s because I went into expecting her to be bad.
Robert Duvall has a brief role as Ned Pepper.
Jeff Corey has an equally brief role as Tom Chaney.
This movie actually follows the book almost exactly, up until the last ten minutes. When reading about the 2010 version, I read that the directors told Bridges not to focus on the ’69 movie because they wanted to focus on the book. This lead me to think the ’69 version would stray from the original story. But turns out, like I said, it follows the book very closely. They just make three major changes right at the end.
The book mentions her dad of course, and talks about why he was going into town and about his good attributes. I liked that the movie showed her and her dad interacting, as well as the scene when he is shot. Though there is a crowd that sees him get shot, in the book it says that no one was there or trying to chase him.
The book also takes place in winter, in the movie it seems to be in summer.
When they go to the hangings, in the book all three men are given time to say something before being hung. Also, when the lever is pulled, there is something up with the Native American’s noose and he wiggles a while and takes a long time to die because his neck didn’t break. This isn’t shown in the movie. Scenes like this always seem so crazy to me. That killings used to be a public event. People say that our world today is so much worse, like morally, and yeah, we have violent movies and video games. But they treated public killings like going to the theater! Even worse thinking of people who would go watch more the more gruesome killings, like guillotine and things like that.
The scene where LaBoeuf is introduced is fairly close to the book, though in the movie she sees him the one night then talks to him the next. In the book it’s all one night. Also, when he asks who she is, she doesn’t say. Then the lady in charge of the boarding house, who is a chatterbox, goes on about who she is and why she’s in town.
In all versions, she initially offers Cogburn $50, but he ups it to $100 which she agrees to. With movies like this, I of course know that $50 was a lot more back then than it is today. But I like to look up inflation because I think that really helps you understand the amounts they were talking about (I also did this while reading Oil! because specific dollar amounts are frequently mentioned). Turns out $50 back than is equivalent to $1000 today! Now wonder Cogburn was surprised she had that much money.
She gets the money by selling the ponies back to Stonehill. The actor is Strother Martin and you may recognize him from movies like Cool Hand Luke (“What we have here, is a failure to communicate”), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (“That’s what happens when you live 10 years in Bolivia. You get colorful”). He was also a frequent on Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
Another small change, is that there aren’t really any scenes that take place at night, it’s all during the day. In the book a lot of events took place at night, either because it was early in the morning, or at night. Remember, the book is in winter time, so there is less daylight. I’m guessing the movie changed that because back then they couldn’t film scenes in the dark because it wouldn’t be visible enough.
In both the book and ’69 movie, Cogburn tells her his history while they are waiting for Ned and his gang to show up at the hut. In the book, he rambles on, even when Mattie is falling asleep. In this movie, he doesn’t ramble on quite the same.
A little later, after taking the dead bodies into that town, Cogburn, LaBoeuf and the sheriff of that town get into a shooting competition during which time they have a few swigs from the flask. Cogburn drinking even more than the others. I liked this scene in the book, because as they are shooting, none of them really make any of the crazy shots. In movies they always over exaggerate, trying to make the character look like a badass by making some crazy shot. But in this, they get their target part of the time, but they also miss a lot. And this is what leads to Cogburn being especially drunk as they head out towards Lucky Ned. In the movie, he starts drinking the night before and just keeps it going. They do have a brief shooting competition scene.
Some smaller changes from the end of the movie, when Mattie tells Ned her gun backfired he replies saying how that’ll happen sometimes. In the book, he adds, “that’ll happen, and it embarrasses you every time.” I just liked that added line at the end, makes Ned seem kind of likeable. Also, in the book they sort out the mail from the robbery of the train. One of the things in it are some kind of checks worth a lot of money, however they need to be signed by a certain person. They make Mattie forge the signature and she does a good job and he’s impressed.
When she falls in the pit, there are a lot of sleeping snakes, not just the one. She is also in there longer, and she starts to slip and fall further. She tugs at the skeleton and his arm comes off and she uses that to help keep her in place.
When Cogburn is riding Little Blackie to save her, in the book he uses a knife to stab the horse to get him to go faster. He then even rubs salt in the wound. In the movie, he just slaps the horse with his hand. The snake bite ends up getting so bad, that her arm has to be amputated, in the movie she doesn’t lose her arm.
A huge change, is that they killed off LaBoeuf in this movie! In the book, he survives and takes Chaney’s dead body back to Texas. In the movie, Cogburn says he took the body back. In the book, she never sees either men again. But she finds out he is part of a traveling Wild West show. She goes to go see him but is told he died just a few days prior. She has his body sent to where she lives and has him buried in the family plot.
In the movie, it shows Cogburn at Mattie’s home and she takes him to her father’s grave. She tells him that when he dies she wants him buried here, because since he has no family, he will otherwise get buried at some random place.
John Wayne an Oscar for his performance, but most people say they felt it was given to him simply because he had not yet won an Oscar. He, himself felt he had starred in much better films then this one.
It seems the people involved didn’t have the best time filming. Both directed Henry Hathaway and Wayne had other actresses in mind for Mattie but didn’t get who they wanted. Sally Field being one of the ones, as well as Wayne suggesting Karen Carpenter who was virtually unknown at the time. (She later went on to have a huge musical success with her brother in the duo The Carpenters). Kim Darby says she didn’t like working with Hathaway, then we have Glen Campbell who has I said, Hathaway was not happy with.
Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, his voice can be hard to understand, it helped that I already knew a lot of the dialogue. I think he does a very accurate portrayal of Cogburn, more so than Wayne in my opinion.
Matt Damon is the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. I thought he also was well cast. His and Cogburn’s arguments felt very natural and real.
Hailee Steinfeld does a great job playing Mattie Ross. She was 13 years old when cast, and 14 by the time they were filming. She was nominated for an Oscar, though she didn’t win. Still, being nominated at such a young age is a big achievement. In the book, Mattie could be kind of annoying I though, especially when haggling with Stonehill. Steinfeld makes her character more likeable though.
Josh Brolin plays Tom Chaney and he gets third billing but doesn’t show up until the last 30 minutes of the movie. He delivers a convincing performance within the short time he’s on screen.
As said above, I saw this movie in theaters with my dad and remembered liking it, but hadn’t seen it since then. After watching it this time around, I now know why. It’s good, but it just seemed like there’s something missing. I’m not sure what-because the directing, acting and story are all well done. It is a faithful adaptation, with only a few changes.
This movie doesn’t show any scenes with the day the way the ’69 version does. However, I do really like the start of this one. They have the scripture that was used in the book about “the wicked flee when non pursueth” and has the daughter narrating talking about how he was killed. This movie does take place in winter time as the book shows, so as she’s talking it’s showing outside the boarding house where her dad is killed, and it’s beautifully shot with the snow falling.
In this movie, Mattie’s first night in town she sleeps in the morgue because she doesn’t have money to stay at the boarding house. This didn’t happen in the book. A scene like this seems like a very Coen brother’s idea.
Her meeting with LaBoeuf is different in this. She first sees him out front of the boarding house, and asks the owner who he is. The next morning, she wakes up and he’s there in her room waiting for her to wake up. Once she’s up they have their conversation. Definitely kind of a creeper to be in her room while she’s sleeping!
In this movie they sort of show that Mattie got sick while at Fort Smith. In the ’69 version this is never shown, and in the book she gets sick enough that she has to stay in bed for two days. There is a part I quite liked where she says she is given medicine by the woman who owns the boarding house and Mattie suspects there must have been morphine or something in it because she got rather loopy. Grandma Turner is also taking the medicine and Mattie says how to keep them entertained, Mattie read aloud from a book that was there. It’s a silly, entertaining story and she says that there were a few parts she read multiple times because it made the two of them laugh so much.
This movie doesn’t have the scene where Mattie has dinner with Cogburn, it also doesn’t have the scene where she goes to Cogburn’s place and sees LaBoeuf there talking with him. Instead, this whole discussion/argument happens after she crosses the river to join them on the hunt for Chaney. The part where LaBoeuf is spanking her also happens at this time, whereas in the book it happens later, they try to ride fast to leave her behind, but when she keeps up with them, they hide and ambush her.
LaBoeuf and Cogburn do not get along in any of these versions, and in this one he even leaves them to go his own way. This did not happen in the book.
When Mattie and Cogburn are on their own they come across a man hanging in a tree. They cut the man down, then a Native American comes by and they give him the body. Later they hear a shot fired, and Cogburn says he had asked the Native American to shoot if there was someone on their trail. They think it’s LaBoeuf but instead turns out to be this guy wearing a bear head as a hat. This whole thing also wasn’t in the book and the guy with the bear head also felt very Coen brotherish to me.
The scene with Quincey and Moon follows the book close, but then when they are hiding out, waiting for Ned things are different because LaBoeuf shows up just a minute before Ned. This causes a different kind of squirmish than happened in the book, though the same people die and get away ultimately. Having LaBoeuf bite his tongue, causing him to talk funny didn’t happen in the book.
Also, the guy who plays Moon is Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brandon Gleeson. At this point he hadn’t been in many movies, but went on to be in movies such as Ex Machina, The Revenant, the new Star Wars and Brooklyn, all four of which were nominated for oscars the same year! And two of those have books, so don’t be surprised if you see them come up sometime within the next few months. He also a small role as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies.
They also skip the scene where they take the bodies into a nearby town. In the book when going to this town they get more info on where Ned and Chaney are and head out on their trail. In this film, that doesn’t happen and instead they feel that the trail has gone cold. LaBoeuf once again leaves them; Mattie asks to go with him saying she chose the wrong man but LaBoeuf says no.
Believing the “trail has gone cold” and LaBoeuf leaving once again, as well as the line about choosing the wrong man never happened in the book.
Prior to LaBoeuf leaving, they do have a brief scene when they are shooting corn dodgers like in the book.
The final scenes, with Mattie going to the river and seeing Chaney and the subsequent events are the same as the book. LaBoeuf also reappears and does the same things his character does in the book.
Mattie falls in the pit, and they have the multiple snakes in the rib cage. They also leave out the scene where she uses the corpses arm-I’m assuming because it would be too graphic for a PG-13 movie. Once again, in the book it felt like she was in the pit longer than is shown in the movie.
In both movies, and the book, Cogburn cuts the snake bite. When reading this, I decided to research if that is even something you should do. Turns out you shouldn’t! This can cause an infection and just make it worse. You also shouldn’t wash the snake bite because you will wash away venom which is bad because when you go to the hospital they need to get the venom sample. You also should move as little as possible, to slow down the time it takes for the venom to reach your heart.
Unlike the ’69 movie, they do show Cogburn stabbing the horse as a way to make him run fast. In this movie though he takes her to someone’s cabin he comes across rather than back to the town (because in this version they didn’t even make that stop at the town).
The ending of this movie is very similar to the book-where Mattie loses her arm, and she sends a letter to Cogburn inviting him to visit but he never does. LaBoeuf lives and takes Chaney to Texas. Then later, she hears about the Wild West show he is in. In the book, her brother sees an advertisement in a newspaper, and he sends it to Mattie, circling Cogburn’s name. In the movie, Cogburn sends her the clipping, inviting her to meet him. In both versions though he is already dead by the time the show comes to town. In both, she pays to have his body shipped to her and has him buried in the family plot.
This movie was actually nominated for a total of ten academy awards but didn’t win any. Going down in academy history as a movie with the most nomination but failing to win for any of them. (The King’s Speech swept up most the awards that year).
Also, as of 2019 this movie has made the most money in the box office out of all Coen brothers movies. I found this quite surprising, seeing as how this is not one of their better movies. Perhaps the PG-13 rating is what helped.
Book or Movie
Between the three, I would recommend the book. It kept my interest, and it helped that it wasn’t long. If you read the book, and want to watch the better adaptation, I would probably go with the 2010 version, even though they did change more of the story. Both the book and ’10 get to the same ending, they just changed a few things about how that end was reached. Whereas the ’69 version kept the journey the same, yet changed the ending! I think the ’10 was just better cast, as well as having great directors behind it.