The story is dirt-simple. After her father is murdered by a coward named Tom Chaney, 14-year old Mattie Ross goes into Fort Smith, Arkansas to take care of affairs, including arranging some justice.
Upon learning that the local sheriff is not in pursuit, because Chaney has escaped into the Choctaw Nation and is now the business of the Federal Marshals, she determines to hire one to go after him, and asks the sheriff who would be best.
"I would have to weigh that proposition.
"I reckon William Waters is the best tracker; he's half Comanche, and it is a sight to see him cut sign.
"The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork.
"The straightest one would be L. T. Quinn. He brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then, but he believes that even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake."
To which, Mattie responds, "Where can I find this Rooster?"
Charles Portis' 1968 novel was first filmed in 1969, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne, and later remade in 2010 by the Coen brothers with Jeff Bridges.
In A Boy and his Vampire (mostly about remakes), I noted that this was one remake that did not fill me with dread. After seeing it in the theater, I felt it better than the original in almost every way and considered it the best film of 2010.
I may have to re-evaluate that comparison a bit.
I take back nothing of what I felt about the new version, but it's been ages since I saw the original. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to get the DVD of the original and give it another look.
I had forgotten just how good it really was; it holds up very well, even 42 years later.
Reviews of the remake made a big deal about it going back to the original novel and being more faithful to it.
Well, in some ways, but...
The first third of both movies are very similar and pretty much like the novel.
In the middle third, the two movies seriously part company, with the Wayne version most like the book and the Coen Brothers take either coming from their Twilight Zone imagination, or incorporating bits from other books by Portis (having never read any of those others, I simply don't know; I'm leaning instead to the first possibility).
The last third of the two movies part company again, but in reverse directions; the Coen Brothers version being much closer to the novel.
Ok, how about who's in them?...
Kim Darby as Mattie Ross - From homevideos.com
Kim Darby, in the 1969 version, is Ok, in a Disney family movie kind of way, but in comparison, she's just completely blown away by...
Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross - From demeterclarc.com
Hailee Steinfeld, in her first movie role ever, as the 2010 version, is simply one of the most amazing finds in recent movie history. The sky's the limit for her future.
Update - Thursday, 21 Jun 2012 - It's been a solid year now since I wrote "The sky's the limit for her future." You might be wondering, "So, what happened?"
Well, she's still working on it. Her page on the IMDB (That's a link - hint, hint, hint :-) shows four movies she's in (one of them a rumor), scheduled for release in 2013 and 2014. It also shows that she did not come out of nowhere; she'd been in a short film, and has done work on TV.
But True Grit (2010) really is her first feature movie, and I stand by my "The sky's the limit" statement.
Glen Campbell and John Wayne - From jamesnava.com
John Wayne, as Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, finally won an Oscar for this role, and By God, he earned it. Among the things I'd forgotten about the original was just how good he really was; this is his best work since The Searchers and Red River.
Singer Glen Campbell, as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, is Ok. Not great, but not cringe-worthy either. He gets the job done.
Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon - From nickandkaley.blogspot.com
Jeff Bridges is a worthy successor to John Wayne for the role of "Rooster" Cogburn, looks absolutely perfect for it, and doesn't disappoint.
As for the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, if Campbell was Ok, Matt Damon (who can make me want to throw things at him when he opens his mouth politically) is simply outstanding. No real comparison at all.
What about the "coward Tom Chaney"?...
Jeff Corey - From Aveleyman.com
Jeff Corey made Chaney into a whiney, kind of pitiful object of the manhunt.
Josh Brolin - From smithdell.blogspot.com
Josh Brolin, in the new version, made him into a slow-witted but dangerous animal, capable of almost anything. This guy was scary.
Chaney had joined up with the gang of outlaw "Lucky" Ned Pepper...
As played by Robert Duvall in the 1969 version - From blogs.orlandosentinel.com
Played in the 2010 version by...
Barry Pepper - From qoo3me.livejournal.com
Assaying Barry Pepper's performance is a bit difficult because, like Karl Urban channeling the late DeForest Kelly as "Bones" McCoy (in the 2009 version of Star Trek), Pepper makes me feel as though I'm actually watching Robert Duvall again.
I'm trying to imagine Barry Pepper (probably best known as the sniper, in Saving Private Ryan, who would cross himself before blowing out the brains of some poor German soldier) being told to follow in the footsteps of an actor who has been called "an American Olivier". He did a beautiful job of it.
Piece of John Wayne trivia...
The novel was adapted into a screenplay by Marguerite Roberts, who was blacklisted in 1952 for refusing to name names in her testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee and had been branded a communist for that.
When she learned that her script was being submitted to John Wayne, she was certain that, because of his right-wing politics, there was no way he would ever read it.
The Duke surprised her, twice, by saying, "Well, let me take a look at the script. Let's give her a chance.", and then later coming out and saying, "This is the best western written in years. Let's do it."
Bottom line as to which one is best? Which should you get?
Hell! BOTH of them!