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125th Post Battle Royale: True Grit 1969 vs. 2010


                                   

It’s that time again ladies and jellyspoons: a Battle Royale, except this time, the battle covers over forty years. We’ve got Kim Darby versus Hailee Steinfeld. Glen Campbell versus Matt Damon. And most important of all, we have the Duke, John Wayne versus the Dude, Jeff Bridges. This great battle occurs all in the search of True Grit (henceforth distinguished by their years: 1969 and 2010).

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Mattie Ross (Darby 1969, Steinfeld 2010) travels to Fort Smith to gather her father’s body after he has been murdered by Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey 1969, Josh Brolin 2010). In order to hunt down the criminal, Mattie hires the infamous U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Wayne 1969, Bridges 2010) to journey into the expanse of Indian nation and bring Chaney to justice. They are joined by Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Campbell 1969, Damon 2010), who has hunted Chaney since he murdered a Senator in Texas.

The 2010 remake is almost a scene-for-scene reshoot of the original, but leave it to those pesky Coens to darken the mood and add a bit of realism to the game. I’ll start with the original though. Since I was still decades away from life in 1969, I cannot account for other movies released during that period, but True Grit seemed to walk the line between personalities. The film is campy and cheesy with a light-hearted tone even during the tensest scenes. This is counteracted by visual acts of violence (men hanged, fingers butchered) that make the 1969 version of a G rating seem odd.

The 2010 version, while showing the same crucial scenes – often with identical dialog – brings the tension back into the foray and adds a genuine sense of gritty Western to the film. The Coens changed the main characters’ roles ever so slightly to make sure the audience felt the sought-after “grit”. La Boeuf, of the three, changes the most minimally. Damon plays him much more indignant toward his companions, but also has the subtle respect. Campbell, on the other hand, plays La Boeuf as a mild dimwit for much of the film until the “changing of the guard” as Cogburn (re)discovers the whiskey.

The most influential changes (for obvious reasons) occur within the characters of Mattie and Rooster. Darby’s Mattie has a 60/40 split between hardened adult and childish youth. Meanwhile, Seinfeld’s Mattie is closer to 80/20. The scene by the campfire is the most telling for this separation as Darby uses the “Midnight Caller” story as a game, but Steinfeld uses it to diffuse an argument between her companions. It is no wonder Steinfeld got an Oscar nomination because at no point is her performance diminished by the more powerful, seasoned Damon and Bridges – or to a lesser extent Brolin.

       

Apart from Mattie, Rooster Cogburn is the most vital, and polarizing, character. In 1969, he was referred to as a difficult person with a mean heart and distaste for humankind – he’s described multiple times by the townspeople. Wayne plays him as a surly fellow, to be fair, but he is still a somewhat affable man with the ability to intermingle with folks and survive just fine. He’s coherent, sensible and has a knack for (semi)eloquent speech; he seems happy more often than not. Bridges, however, plays Cogburn like he is described: an ornery curmudgeon. He despises talking with people; he prefers to shoot first and ask questions later. This Rooster is always drunk and always looking for an argument wherever he goes. He is not someone with whom you stop and have a chat. You will more likely cross the street just so you don’t have to walk near him.

With a title like True Grit and the main premise being Mattie’s search for the aforementioned quality, I felt it was a little odd to make 1969 a wholesome family affair. 2010 sticks to the story, but brings that extra something that was missing from the original (i.e. Brolin’s Chaney is infinitely more sinister than Corey’s). With Steinfeld and Bridges taking already great characters, making them their own and making them both more applicable to the story, the 2010 True Grit is a more worthwhile viewing than the 1969 version. That being said, both are great films and one has John Wayne, so you can’t really go wrong.

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  1. I’d have to watch them both close together, but I prefer the new one for the most part. If memory serves, John Wayne won an Oscar for his portrayal.

    • Watching them back-to-back has the small differences (like the very beginning and the ending), so it’s interesting to see the ways Wayne and Bridges do the same lines. Also, you are correct. Wayne won. The Coen version had something like 10 nominations but didn’t win any I think.

    • tamborn
    • June 4th, 2012

    I liked both versions of the movie. John Wayne and Jeff Bridges were both great actors for the character, but I don’t think you can compare them against each other really. Hailee Steinfeld was much more believable in the role and definitely deserved the oscar nomination. Also thought it was interesting how the only major changes that the Coens made were to the beginning and end of the movie.

    • True, you can’t really compare them. I just preferred the Bridges version when you consider how the side characters described Rooster. Wayne played him as a more likable person, and obviously others enjoyed his performance since he got the Oscar.

  2. I really liked the new one 🙂

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