COLUMN: No improvements needed for 'True Grit' - but filmmakers made them anyway

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Coen brothers 'LaBoeufed' 1969 film

By Linda Ireland

When I heard that someone was remaking the movie classic “True Grit,” my first thought was “why.”
Remakes are generally a waste of time and a movie like “True Grit” needs no improvements. As corny as it sounds, one of my favorite scenes in the 1969 film is John Wayne as one-eyed, cranky Rooster Cogburn on horseback, reins in teeth and Colts in both hands, charging the bad guys.
Bud and I went to see the Joel and Ethan Coen version of the film – not expecting much – and I changed my mind. If all remakes were this good, remake them all.
I loved Jeff Bridges in the lead as Rooster. (And yes, he repeated the “reins in teeth” moment.) Matt Damon is a definite improvement over Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.
But the standout is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Kim Darby played the part of the sassy teen in the first film and I always thought she was a bit out of place. Her speech and haircut just didn’t fit the time.
Hailee, though, looked the part, talked the part and it wasn’t difficult at all to believe that the vengeful little girl grew up to be a one-armed spinster with major interest in her hometown bank.
Oh yes – our Mattie lost her arm while on the trail of the notorious Tom Chaney (the man who killed her father) in the new film. Bud and I complained about “why” they would ruin the movie with the alternate ending.
I tried to find a copy of the original novel by Charles Portis and found I wasn’t willing to pay the price. My regular online sources were either sold out or terribly overpriced, due to the popularity of the movie.
I prefer actual books to online reading, but thought I’d give the Internet a try. (I also prefer a real newspaper to online, but our website www.laruecountyherald.com has many features that we aren’t able to provide in print.)
I Googled “Read True Grit online” and came upon a site with the entire 1968 novel available for free: http://freebooksread.blogspot.com/2011/01/read-true-grit-online-free.html.
It turns out that the Coen brothers stayed closer to the original novel than the first movie. In the book, Mattie indeed lost her arm after a rattlesnake bite. She never married, choosing to stay home and care for her mother (who could “hardly spell cat”) and immersing herself in banking and the Presbyterian Church.
If you have a free evening, go see the movie. If you’d rather stay home and read, check out freebooksread. There are plenty of other titles available on the website including Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Breaking Dawn (Twilight saga), Peter Pan and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Either way – you’ll get a bargain.