• The Coen brothers’ True Grit remake is an exception to the rule that remakes are usually pointless, as it improves upon the original.
  • The Coens’ version sticks closer to the source material and focuses on the true protagonist, Mattie Ross, rather than Rooster Cogburn.
  • By telling the True Grit story from Mattie’s perspective and retaining the gritty tone of the novel, the Coens prove that the western genre is still worthwhile and can be revitalized.

It’s incredibly rare that a remake manages to outdo its classic predecessor, but the Coen brothers’ True Grit is superior to the John Wayne-starring original. Remakes are usually a pointless endeavor, because if a movie is beloved enough for a remake to be financially viable, then it’s probably a timeless gem that can’t be improved on. But the Coens’ revamp of True Grit is an exception to this rule. 2010’s True Grit is less a remake of the 1969 Wayne movie and more a re-adaptation of the novel by Charles Portis.

Henry Hathaway’s original adaptation marked a creative departure for Wayne. Wayne tended to play clear-cut heroes who don’t hesitate to save the day, but his True Grit character, Rooster Cogburn, is a hard-drinking antihero who’s reluctant to spring into action. The role gave way to one of Wayne’s strongest performances, and True Grit ultimately went down as one of the actor’s greatest westerns. But the Coens managed to top it by sticking closer to the source material and refocusing the narrative on its true protagonist.

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Why The Coen Brothers’ True Grit Remake Is The Best Version

Mattie Ross meets Rooster Cogburn in True Grit

When the Coen brothers set out to write their own adaptation of Portis’ book, they decided to refocus the story on its true protagonist. On the page, True Grit isn’t really Cogburn’s story; it’s Mattie Ross’ story. Mattie is the plucky teenage girl determined to find her father’s killer; Cogburn is just the washed-up U.S. Marshal she hires to help with the search. The 1969 adaptation made Cogburn the lead character so the movie could be a starring vehicle for Wayne, but the 2010 remake remained truer to the original story. Jeff Bridges’ Cogburn isn’t the lead character in the Coens’ True Grit; Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie takes center stage.

Not only did the Coens tell the True Grit story as it was meant to be told, through Mattie’s eyes, but they also retained the gritty, realistic tone of the novel much better than the Wayne version. Despite coming out around the time that films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were pioneering the anti-western and deconstructing the genre’s tropes, 1969’s True Grit is very much a traditional western. The Coens’ version is a bleak revisionist western more in line with the style and message of Portis’ source material.

The True Grit Remake Proved The Western Genre Is Still Worthwhile

Jeff Bridges on horseback in True Grit

From the 1930s to the 1950s, westerns were as popular as superhero movies are today. But, as with any popular genre, the western’s heyday eventually came to an end. For more than half a century, new western movies have struggled to have any cultural relevance. But, thanks to their work on True Grit and their earlier neo-western masterpiece No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers have proven that the western genre is still worthwhile. The Guardian opined that the Coens have taken “a genre oft-presumed deader than Custer” and given back its “heart, soul, and teeth.

Source: The Guardian

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