Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: From book... to movie... to movie. True Grit by Charles Portis

True Grit
: Charles Portis

Charles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America's foremost writers. True Grit, his most famous novel, was first published in 1968, and became the basis for the movie starring John Wayne. True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

True Grit is eccentric, cool, straight, and unflinching, like Mattie herself. From a writer of true status, this is an American classic through and through.

This review will be a bit of a departure as it's hard to talk exclusively about the book, especially when there are two adaptions out there in movie form. So it might be muddled a bit- but I will mostly be talking about how the movie translates, and what I love about the book!

I'm a big fan of reading a book before seeing the movie, but in this case it didn't work out that way. I first saw True Grit years ago, probably in the middle of the night, on TCM. My only recollection of it was really that John Wayne was in it and that he rode with his reins in his mouth.

Let's be honest- if you have ever ridden a horse and have seen this movie- you have tried this trick. Probably firing the old finger guns off at nearby riders. Let me say- it's gross (seriously, do you know where those reins have been??), and yet it's still somehow a must do. At any rate- that was my major association with the title True Grit and when the new movie came out, I had still not yet read the book. I remedied that fact quickly.

The new movie is great. As a fan of pretty much every western out there, from My Darling Clementine to my all time favorite Tombstone, you could pretty much guarentee that my butt would be in the seats on opening weekend. The movie really was something to see, especially compared to the John Wayne classic. For me, I liked the grittier Cogburn and the snarkier Mattie and the "silly" Le Bouef more in the new version. I walked out of the movie motivated to get the book and see which movie got it right (for the record- I think it's the new one).

As for the book- it really does read like the classic western. There is gun play and drinking, cops and robbers, and alot of time spent on horseback. The main charecter, Mattie, is an irrepresable 14 year old who is smarter then most everyone around her (and she knows it) and isn't afraid to speak her mind, even if the conventions of the time might like her to do otherwise. Her relationship with Cogburn especially, and Le Bouef to a smaller extent, is roughly familial. She annoys the hell out of both of them, and they annoy her right back, but in the end they all come through for eachother. As cheesball as it sounds, they really forge a bond as they are on the trail of Tom Chaney. The extent to which Mattie has wedged herself into the hearts of both men show when they must save her life in the end.

The players that revolve around Mattie are fabulous. They are stereotypes of the time and also of the genre- the grizzled Marshall who hovers just barely on the right side of the law (mostly), the Texas Ranger full of arrogance and the belief that there is no law better the Rangers, the down on his luck killer who thinks he was dealt a raw hand and that justifies his choices, and the leader of the gunman with his somewhat silly nickname and penchant for ignoring the law even when it's staring him right in the face. They are charecters you see over and over again in westerns, but here, they have a bit of humor to them that seems to acknowledge the "silliness" as Mattie would say of the men. As you read the book, told from Mattie's perspective, you feel as though you are in on some funny secret that only Mattie really knows, but that she is sharing with you.

This book is a classic for a reason. The book is wonderful and the movies, especially the newer version, stay true to the spirit of the tale. All three are most definitely worth your time.


1 comment:

  1. I'm quite desperate to work the new movie into my schedule somehow. The old one was one of my favorites when I was younger, and everything I've heard about the new one has been positive. I can't remember when I last read a western, but what a great idea to take on all three!