The following is a posting of Carol’s Comments by Carol Rusinek.
Hello Everyone! Welcome to the fourth issue of Carol’s Comments. I am a volunteer at the River Park Branch Library. I’ve never been especially attracted to the Western genre in literature or film. Although I do admit that as a child, I devoured all the books in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and now still enjoy an occasional sweeping epic like James Michener’s Centennial. But it still seems strange that I would eagerly anticipate the release of Joel and Ethan Coens’ remake of True Grit. However, when I found out that two of my favorite directors had made a more faithful version of Charles Portis’ novel, I decided to read the book first. I soon discovered that it was really a coming of age story disguised as a Western.
Set primarily in 1870’s Arkansas, this fast paced adventure story revolves around fourteen year old Mattie Ross who travels to Fort Smith, Arkansas to avenge her father’s murder by bringing drifter Tom Chaney back to justice. To do so, she hires the irascible U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (a man with “true grit”) to venture into the Indian Territory and capture him. Despite Cogburn’s fervent objections, Mattie is determined to go with him. Before they start their pursuit, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf wants to join them because Chaney is also wanted for a murder he committed in Texas.
Mattie’s exciting narrative lets the reader follow the group’s treacherous journey into the frontier by graphically describing all the deadly situations they face along the way. The main reason why this book is so entertaining is that all the major characters are portrayed very realistically. They exhibit heroic traits as well as flaws. In particular, heroine Mattie Ross displays steadfastness and a maturity beyond her years. In fact, her self-confidence and headstrong personality at times help keep Cogburn and LaBoeuf focused on their main goal of finding her father’s killer.
Ultimately, True Grit remains an essential American classic that can be enjoyed by everyone. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, I think it should be required reading for all middle and high school students.After finishing the book, I was very curious to see how both films compared in their adaptations of Portis’1968 novel. So I decided to watch the two movies back to back starting first with the 2010 version.
The Coen brothers’ screenplay is more a reinterpretation than a remake of the original 1969 classic starring Oscar winner John Wayne. Their version is truer to the book because Mattie Ross remains the story’s central character by personally narrating the film. Hailee Steinfeld shines in her portrayal of Mattie Ross. She embodies her character’s spunk, stubbornness and tenacity because she was the character’s exact age during filming. The maturity she displays in this part makes her performance very believable especially when acting alongside more experienced actors like Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Compared to Steinfield’s stellar performance, Kim Darby’s portrayal is very annoying and surprisingly amateur considering she was in her early twenties when she played the role in the first movie version.
Furthermore, both films don’t hide Rooster Cogburn’s notorious past. Jeff Bridges’Cogburn definitely doesn’t imitate John Wayne’s. However, his crusty, multidimensional portrayal more closely resembles the book’s description of the character. Compared to the 2010 film, the 1969 original plays more like a traditional Hollywood Western. At times, I felt like I was watching a two hour episode of Gunsmoke. Filled with many memorable characters and scenes, Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of True Grit more authentically captures the brutal, rough and tumble atmosphere of the Old West. I highly recommend it.
True Grit as well as other Western books and movies can be found at all SJCPL locations. For more information, visit the Library’s web site at www.libraryforlife.org . So to quote Roy Rogers, ‘Happy trails to you till we meet again.” Thanks for reading!