True Grit 1969 vs. True Grit 2010
I loved the original True Grit. It's been probably 15 years since I last saw it, but I remembered it well as I was watching the new Coen brothers version, and afterward it seemed only fair to watch it again. Turns out I still love the original. The new version? Even better.
The two films are quite similar, with very few changes in the storyline (though there is one important one), some of the same dialogue, and quite a few cinematic similarities. What's more, the three main characters are played similarly by both sets of actors. It's clear that the 2010 cast (Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, and Matt Damon) were pretty heavily influenced by the 1969 cast (John Wayne, Kim Darby, and Glen Campbell). And that's to the credit of the Coen's version. The film--and its characters--are still odd, but their oddness is less Coen's brothers bizarreness and more an homage to 1969, when movies weren't afraid to be a little bit cheesy.
True Grit is a fairly simple story--Mattie Ross' father is killed and his killer flees into Indian Country. Mattie sets out to apprehend his killer, assisted by Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). They have adventures. The end. The details are far less important than the characters themselves. And the important character, the one that brings us to heroine content, is Mattie.
Mattie Ross is, for my money, among the best female characters ever put to film. She's smart, she's stubborn, she's brave, she's determined, she's scared, she's loyal...and she's 15. Why is it, I wonder, that filmmakers seem to find it easier to make strong characters from girls than from grown women? I'm not complaining--I love a great teenage girl character--I'd just like to see women treated similarly. Mattie's quest is based not on her ego or want of adventure, but on her sense of responsibility. At one point, Mattie is asked, "Most girls like play toys, but you like pistols, do you?" "If I did," Mattie replies, "I would have one that worked." She's not out for blood for its own sake, she wants justice. She's an honest, dyed-in-the-wool heroine.
What makes Mattie even better? Hailee Steinfeld. The 2010 version is all well-acted (I love Jeff Bridges, and Matt Damon is absolutely the perfect LaBoeuf), but Steinfield, only 13 at the time of filming, knocks Mattie completely out of the park. She steals every scene, she makes every one of her fairly unbelievable lines believable, she's just completely wonderful. I was blown away.
The 1969 True Grit is fairly glaringly racist, with stereotypical Black, Chinese, and Mexican minor characters all included. Not much I can say about that. The 2010 version isn't really any better, with most of the same stereotypical characters included and no attempt made to flesh them out or to make any of the other supporting characters people of color. The one thing I will say is that the 2010 version skips the token stereotypical Native American character that you find in the earlier one, and I always appreciate that in a Western (it almost never happens).
I'm biased, obviously, in reviewing a movie made by my favorite filmmakers, in my favorite genre, and having it be a re-make of one of my favorite childhood movies. That said, I really highly recommend taking the time to see True Grit 2010. I'd love to give it four stars, just because I think it's so great, but I can't quite see doing that based 100% on one character, especially given the problems with race, so I'm going to go with a more conservative three.
For some more feminist perspectives on True Grit, check out:
"True Grit: A Feminist Perspective" from Newscoma
"True Grit: Okay But Unnecessary Remake" by Iris at Films for Women
"Parents, take your daughters to see Cohen brothers beautifully crafted True Grit remake!" by Alicia Sowisdral at Filmcatcher
"Bamboo Review: True Grit" by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon