The latest in literary remakes: The Coen brothers' True Grit

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld star in the 2010 version of True Grit.

An original screenplay is so rare these days. From the latest Harry Potter film (which we loyally attended at midnight wearing a Gryffindor sweater) to the critically acclaimed The Social Network (which had us rethinking our definition of “friend”), some of the most-hyped movies of 2010 have been based on books. And we’re certainly not complaining about all the adaptations – bring them on, as far as we’re concerned, and let the comparisons be made.

One of the latest adaptations comes to us from the Coen brothers (Fargo, No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man). Last week they released their remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie True Grit, which was itself an adaptation of the 1968 Western novel by Charles Portis. The story is simple: 14-year-old Mattie Ross enlists the help of Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, an aging, one-eyed, trigger-happy lawman, to help avenge her father’s untimely death at the hands of a man named Tom Chaney. “They tell me you’re a man with true grit,” Ross tells Cogburn upon meeting him.

Although Portis’s novel has already been adapted once ­— a role for which John Wayne won his only Oscar for Best Actor — Joel and Ethan Coen told the New York Times that this film is very much still a tribute to the spirit and language of the book itself, rather than just a remake of the first movie.

“[Mattie Ross] is a pill,” Ethan told the Times, “but there is something deeply admirable about her in the book that we were drawn to.” Joel continued the thought: “We didn’t think we should mess around with what we thought was a very compelling story and character.”

Matt Damon, who plays Texas Ranger La Boeuf, said this in the same Times interview: “From the first moment I talked to Joel and Ethan, it was all about the book. Once I read it, I understood, because the language is amazing. So much of the dialogue that is in this movie is right out of the book.”

As an added bonus for our readers, Bookclub-in-a-Box’s own Marilyn Herbert will review the Coen brothers’ True Grit in the new year. Will it live up to expectations, or will Rooster Cogburn’s reversed eyepatch (compare the two photos) prove to be too distracting? Visit our blog next week to find out!

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