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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Book Versus The Movie: True Grit


A while ago I watched True Grit by the Cohen brothers. I use to watch Rooster Cogburn and the Lady with John Wayne quite a bit as a kid, so I decided to give the new version a try. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about Jeff Bridges taking over from The Duke, but I heard the movie was more faithful to the book. Several months later I decided to give the novel a read, since I was trying to read books I normally wouldn't and True Grit was considered a classic.

The novel is told in first person from Mattie's POV, the fourteen years old girl who hires Marshal Cogburn, because he has 'true grit,' to find her father's killer. The character is well-written in the book and well-portrayed in the novel. However, in the book, since we only get her thoughts and perspective, she is annoying as all get out. She's bratty, arrogant, pushy, and demanding. She doesn't really go through a character arc and come out a better person. When we learn about her eighty-years old self, she's pretty much the same. She is the same in the novel, but since we get her interior monologues and character perspectives in the book, her bad qualities seemed amplified.

If you don't compare Jeff Bridges to John Wayne, he does an admirable job in the movie. Wayne's Cogburn seemed more tough-guy than Bridges's portrayal. His Cogburn is more of a wash-up, a tired old marshal seeking something in helping a little girl, even if he (and the audience) don't really know what it is. His Cogburn matched closely with the novel's.

LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon in the movie, is the most changed character. He has very little page time in the novel and his role was expanded in the movie. In the book we only get Mattie's perspective on him, a person she doesn't like and basically considers an idiot. In the movie he comes across as an arrogant and naive young man trying to prove himself, a little unsure what he's getting into. He's the most likable of the three.

The movie follows the book quite faithfully (I was surprised how short the book was) while adding quite a few character building moments and nuances that are missing from the book because the story is told by Mattie. They say the book is comic, but maybe the humor is too subtle for me. While I sometimes chuckled at how pigheaded Mattie was, she was more annoying than anything.

I do admit that the book is well-written. In this case, I recommend the movie over the book. The story is told almost exactly and the viewer gets more characterization of Cogburn and LaBoeuf. Bridges gives a fine performance and we get to enjoy the characters more.

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