Since almost everyone in the free world is at least somewhat familiar with the storyline (14 year old girl leaves home to track down her father’s killer, a former hired man named Tom Chaney, who has since joined up with a gang of thieves lead by Lucky Ned Pepper. To aid her, she hires a US deputy marshal, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn. A Texas ranger, LaBoeuf [pronounced “La Beef”], becomes the third of their party. The story covers the elements of this adventure), this review will cover the quality and value of the 2010 version.
In short, this is an excellent, excellent movie. Bridges is powerful as the drunk, irascible Cogburn, while Steinfeld is top-notch as Mattie Ross. Bridges interpretation of Portis’ hero is worthy and screen filling. Whether a blank stare with mouth agape, slurred, guttural speech, point-blank testimony in court, or griping about LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), Bridges is every bit as worthy as The Duke to wear Cogburn’s eye-patch. Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney) plays the part of stupid so well, you’d swear he was a guy you used to work with or live beside. The real shame is that there is so little screen interplay between Cogburn and Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). Pepper’s Pepper, with spitting, drooling speech spluttering through the worst set of teeth since 30 Days of Night, is as strong as any supporting character of late. It seems Best Supporting Actor nominations usually go to those with large amounts of screen time, but a nod in his direction would surely not be misplaced.
As one might expect from a movie shot in Texas and New Mexico, the scenery, when featured, is stunning. Much of the movie, however, takes place at night, in town or in close quarters, so those shots are few. The courtroom scene near the beginning is quite lengthy, which is a direct draw from the book. It works well to explore the Cogburn character, and Mattie’s analyzing of him.
Still, there are departures from the book. The tension between Cogburn and LaBoeuf erupts, as in the book, but ends in ways very different. It seems as if the directors went to the trouble of removing him for extended periods to allow the relationship between Cogburn and Mattie to develop more fully. While this might be important, it makes for an entirely different scenario when the two of them happen upon the cabin inhabited by two of Pepper’s gang. The Texas lawman’s decision to leave allows for the introduction of another character (not in the book), whose purpose seems to be little more than another strange personality to meet on the trail.
One thing that remains constant is the young 14 year-old Arkansan’s repeated, unintentionally humorous references to her “lawyer Daggett.”
The biggest thing I miss from the book, and which I wish the Coen’s would have found a way to work into the film, either through conversation or through narrative pieces, is Mattie’s constant reflection on Scripture and her thoughts on whether a particular person is Methodist, Baptist, Catholic or “Cumberland Presbyterian.” While the biblical overtones are not completely omitted from the movie, neither are they as strong or prominent as in Portis’s work.
True Grit, from Paramount Pictures, and Skydance Productions, is rated PG-13 for language (a dozen or so swear words) and violence (by rope, knife and bullet). There is also a segment featuring rattlesnakes. You’ve been warned.
True Grit by Charles Portis can be purchased through the link below. You pay the same low Amazon price and I get a small commission.