A week or two ago The Keeper and I watched the original 1969 version of True Grit with John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. Last night we went to see the remake starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld. We were expecting it to be easy to find seats. We were wrong. The movie has been out for three weeks and the theatre was packed.
There were quite a few differences between the 1969 True Grit and the 2010 True Grit, and I’m about to outline and compare as many of them as I can remember. So, just in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen either version, here’s your spoiler alert.
The first difference I noticed was that the new movie had a narrator, an older Mattie Ross, who explained the events which led to her hiring Ruben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn to pursue her father’s murderer. In the original version they actually show her father saying goodbye to the family, Mattie doling out cash for his trip and then the murder. While the narration isn’t bad and it moves you on to the action a little faster, I kind of like the opening couple scenes from the original better. Seeing Mattie with her father makes it a little easier to relate to her and root for her even though the character is a socially inept, abrasive little bitch.
There were a few minor changes once Mattie gets to the city, including her passing her first night in the room where the undertaker prepares bodies and her cornering Rooster for the first time in an outhouse. But mostly the story moves along in the same way and no important details seem to be changed. The next big change, in my opinion, comes when Mattie and Texas Ranger La Boeuf chat for the first time. In the original, La Boeuf stops Mattie in the dining room of the boarding house they’re both staying in and explains that he’s after the same man she’s just hired Rooster to go after. In the new movie, Mattie wakes up with La Boeuf sitting in her room staring at her and smoking a pipe. This makes La Boeuf’s comment about how he’d considered stealing a kiss especially creepy in the new movie, which I thought was kind of unnecessary.
Another big change comes directly after that conversation. In the 1969 True Grit there is a scene where Mattie walks in on Cogburn and La Boeuf commiserating about the upcoming manhunt they intend to embark on. Mattie gets upset because she’s paying for Cogburn’s services and doesn’t want Chaney, her father’s murderer, to be taken back to Texas to be tried, which is what the Marshall and the Ranger intend to do. That scene doesn’t happen in the new movie. They make up for the lack of exposition later with a conversation between Rooster and Mattie once the three of them are on the trail, but it still threw me a little that they left that part out of the new movie.
Once they all get on the trail the story progresses in roughly the same fashion in both movies, except for three glaringly huge differences. In the new movie La Boeuf and Cogburn get into an argument about their respective services in the Civil War, which leads to La Boeuf parting ways from Cogburn and Mattie. The argument happens in the original, but La Boeuf doesn’t leave. Shortly after the split, Rooster suspects that La Boeuf is following them in an attempt to use them to flush Chaney out, but it turns out to be a really weird Grizzly Adams lookalike who points them toward a dugout shelter they should be able to use for the night. In the original they never meet any such man, and Rooster already knows about the dugout. And finally, La Boeuf ends up rejoining the other two but then they all run into a dead end and Rooster gets all emo and decides to call it quits, which prompts La Boeuf to leave them yet again. None of this happened in the 1969 version.
As far as I can tell the scenes that were added, the three above as well as some other minor ones, do nothing to advance or really change the plot. All they really do is add some humor and a bit of conflict, which I found unnecessary. Not that I don’t like to laugh, I just never really felt this was supposed to be a comedy. Overall though, I don’t think that changing a few of the details and adding a few things is bad. When I walked out of the theatre, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the changes, but after thinking about it I can’t say that I dislike the new movie. Perhaps that is partially due to the acting.
Hailee Steinfeld was a perfect Mattie, aside from the fact that she’s very cute and Mattie is supposed to be plain if not downright ugly.
Matt Damon plays the somewhat cocky Texas Ranger better than Glen Campbell probably ever could have, which may be why his character was given so much more depth in the new movie.
And Jeff Bridges is the most worthy successor to The Duke that I can think of. To kick off the final gun battle of the movie, he delivers the line “Fill your hand, you sonuvabitch!!” better than Wayne did in the original.
But even so, I have to say I liked the original just a teeny, tiny bit more. It’s a close call. If I had to rate them I’d give the 1969 version a 9 out of 10 while the remake would get an 8.5, but that still means The Duke wins. Though I will say, I did like the wardrobe in the new movie far, far better than the old.
Note: I found out during the credits of the remake that these movies were based on a book by Charles Portis. I haven’t read this book, but from what I can surmise from Amazon reviews of it, the new movie actually follows the book far more closely than the original movie did. I intend to read the book eventually, and if the new movie really is as close to the book as I’ve been made to believe, I may change my ratings to be equal, since I hate when a movie is based on a book but doesn’t doesn’t follow the book well.