I often don’t like it when Hollywood decides to remake a classic. These decisions are usually about money instead of the integrity of the film. True Grit is an exception. With the Coen brothers at the helm and quality actors such as Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin this remake is able to stand with the original. The Coen brothers did not choose to follow the original screenplay from the 1969 John Wayne classic, but instead they wrote their own screenplay which is more true to the novel written by Charles Portis. The result is a great film that will stand the test of time.
It has been too long since I saw the original True Grit for me to compare the two films, but I did recently read the Charles Portis’ novel. The film is very close to the book with only a few changes. Rooster Cogburn is not a clear cut hero as most John Wayne characters were. He is a complex character. He is not the best U.S. marshal there is, but he is known for bringing back most wanted men dead rather than alive. He also has a drinking problem and can be a little moody. Jeff Bridges portrays these complexities wonderfully. The book by Portis is filled with comical gems and the Coen brothers bring this out, as most of their films contain some sense of dark humor. The other thing the Coen’s do well is choose actors, and this film is no exception. Newcomer, Hailee Steinfeld, stands toe to toe with some of the best actors in the business and delivers an outstanding performance.
The Coen brothers dealt with religious themes in their last movie and the book by Portis mentions religion on several occasions. The film begins with a quote from Proverbs and with the main character, Mattie Ross, telling the audience that the only thing free in life is the grace of God. The film also has a simple but great score that contains lots of religious music. I remember the classic hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” being played several times. As with most westerns life is hard. Mattie Ross has lost her father and seeks revenge for his death. Rooster Cogburn has had several failed marriages, as well as business deals. Tom Chaney believes that everything in life has gone wrong for him. Although God is not mentioned much you get the sense from the score that He is calling out to these individuals. It is clear that these characters encompass a fallen world, and in a fallen world most people’s lives are as disastrous as the world they live in. With the exception of Mattie Ross and one other minor character the people in this story never profess any faith in God, but if they want to escape the hopelessness of a fallen world, then they must answer the call and turn to God. Although the movie begins with two mentions of religion there is no such mention at the end, with the exception of the music, but what Mattie Ross proclaimed at the beginning is confirmed in the end. In a fallen world the one thing we can cling to that will not disappoint is the grace of God.