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True Grit is a 2010 American Western film written and directed by the  Coen brothers. It is the second adaptation of  Charles Portis‘ 1968  novel of the same name, which was previously filmed in 1969 starring John Wayne. This version stars  Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn along with Matt Damon,  Josh Brolin, and  Barry Pepper.

 

Filming began in March 2010, and True Grit was officially released on December 22, 2010, in the US, after advance screenings earlier that month. The film opened the 61st Berlin International Film Festival on February 10, 2011.  It was nominated for ten Academy Awards: Best PictureBest DirectorBest Adapted ScreenplayBest Actor in a Leading Role (Jeff Bridges), Best Actress in a Supporting Role  (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Art DirectionBest Cinematography,  Best Costume DesignBest Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 7, 2011.

 

Plot

The film is narrated by the adult Mattie Ross (Elizabeth Marvel), who explains that her father was murdered by one of his hired hands, Tom Chaney  (Josh Brolin), when she was 14. Chaney made off with her father’s horse and his two California gold pieces.

While collecting her father’s body, the precocious 14-year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) queries the local sheriff about the search for Chaney. After being told that Chaney has fled into the Indian Territory and that the sherrif has no authority to track a fugitive there, she inquires about hiring a Deputy U.S. Marshal to track him down. The sheriff gives three recommendations, and Mattie chooses to hire Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) because he is described as having “true grit.” The gruff, one-eyed Cogburn repeatedly rebuffs the girl’s attempts to talk with him. She offers him $50, but he doesn’t believe she has the money and refuses. She raises the money by aggressively horse-trading with Colonel Stonehill (Dakin Matthews), who did business with her father.

Meanwhile, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) arrives on the trail of Chaney. LaBoeuf has been pursuing him for several months for the murder of a state senator in Texas. After meeting Mattie, he proposes that he should team up with Cogburn, who knows the Choctaw terrain where Chaney is hiding while LaBoeuf knows how Chaney is most likely to behave, but Mattie refuses his offer.

After finally securing Cogburn’s services for $100, Mattie insists on meeting him the following morning to begin the search for Chaney. However, instead of meeting her, Cogburn leaves a note and a train ticket telling Mattie to go home while he apprehends Chaney.

Refused passage on the ferry that conveyed Cogburn and LaBoeuf, Mattie swims her horse across the river. Cogburn reluctantly allows her to come, to LaBoeuf’s displeasure. The next day, she learns Cogburn and LaBoeuf have agreed to split the Texas reward on Chaney and return him to Texas, rather than to Arkansas, and Mattie accuses him of fraud. After a dispute, Cogburn ends his and LaBoeuf’s deal and the ranger leaves.

Later, while in pursuit of the “Lucky” Ned Pepper gang, with whom Chaney is supposedly traveling, the two meet a bush doctor who directs them to an empty dugout for shelter. They find two outlaws occupying the cabin, Quincey (Paul Rae) and Moon (Domhnall Gleeson), one of whom Cogburn knows to be a friend of Lucky Ned (Barry Pepper). As he questions them, Moon is fatally stabbed by Quincey, whom Cogburn then kills. Before he dies, Moon explains that Pepper and his gang were planning to return to the shack later that night.

LaBoeuf arrives at the shack ahead of the gang, but they arrive before he can be warned. Cogburn kills two members of the gang, as well as Pepper’s horse, but accidentally wounds LaBoeuf in the process. During the night and the next day, Cogburn drinks a great deal of whiskey and gets in an argument with LaBoeuf, who departs once more. The next morning, while getting water from a nearby river, Mattie encounters Chaney. She shoots him, but he survives. The pistol misfires as she tries to shoot him again, and he drags her back to Ned, who forces Cogburn to leave by threatening to kill her. Being short a horse, Ned leaves her with Chaney. Ned orders Chaney not to harm her or he will not get paid, and to take her to safety after his remount arrives.

Once alone, Chaney disobeys Ned and tries to kill Mattie. LaBoeuf appears and knocks Chaney out, explaining that when he heard the shots he rode back, and he and Cogburn devised a plan. They watch as Cogburn takes on the remaining members of Ned’s gang, killing two and mortally wounding Ned, before his horse is struck and falls, trapping Cogburn’s leg. Before Pepper can kill Cogburn, LaBoeuf shoots and kills Pepper from four hundred yards away, impressing Mattie with his ability as a marksman. Chaney comes to and attacks LaBoeuf, knocking him briefly senseless. Mattie seizes LaBoeuf’s rifle and shoots Chaney in the chest, knocking him over the edge of the cliff to his death. The recoil, however, knocks her into a deep pit. When she unwittingly disturbs a ball of rattlesnakes, she calls for help. Cogburn arrives, but she is bitten before he can get to her. Cogburn rides day and night to get Mattie to a doctor, carrying her on foot after Mattie’s horse dies of exhaustion.

Twenty-five years later, Mattie — now 40 and with only one arm, the result of an amputation necessitated by gangrene  from the snakebite — receives a note from Cogburn with a flyer enclosed, inviting her to meet him at the traveling Wild West show with which he is performing. When she arrives at the site, she learns that Cogburn has died three days earlier. She has his body moved into her family farm plot, and the film ends with her standing over his grave and reflecting on how people talk about her decision to move Cogburn, how she has never married, and how time catches up with everyone. She also states that she never heard from LaBoeuf again and that if he was still alive, she would be pleased to.

Adaptation and production

The project was rumored as far back as February 2008; however it was not confirmed until March 2009.

Ahead of shooting, Ethan Coen said that the film would be a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version.

It’s partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. That sort of tips the feeling of it over a certain way. I think [the book is] much funnier than the movie was so I think, unfortunately, they lost a lot of humour in both the situations and in her voice. It also ends differently than the movie did. You see the main character – the little girl – 25 years later when she’s an adult. Another way in which it’s a little bit different from the movie – and maybe this is just because of the time the movie was made – is that it’s a lot tougher and more violent than the movie reflects. Which is part of what’s interesting about it.

Mattie Ross “is a pill,” said Ethan Coen in a December 2010 interview, “but there is something deeply admirable about her in the book that we were drawn to,” including the PresbyterianProtestant ethic so strongly imbued in a 14-year-old girl. Joel Coen said that the brothers did not want to “mess around with what we thought was a very compelling story and character”. The film’s producer, Scott Rudin said that the Coens had taken a “formal, reverent approach” to the Western genre, with its emphasis on adventure and quest. “The patois of the characters, the love of language that permeates the whole film, makes it very much of a piece with their other films, but it is the least ironic in many regards”.

Open casting sessions were held in Texas in November 2009 for the role of Mattie Ross. The following month, Paramount Pictures announced a casting search for a 12- to 16-year-old girl, describing the character as a “simple, tough as nails young woman” whose “unusually steely nerves and straightforward manner are often surprising”. Steinfeld, then age 13, was selected for the role from a pool of 15,000 applicants. “It was, as you can probably imagine, the source of a lot of anxiety”, Ethan Coen told The New York Times. “We were aware if the kid doesn’t work, there’s no movie”.

The film was shot in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area in March and April 2010, as well as in Granger and Austin, Texas. The first trailer was released in September; a second trailer premiered with The Social Network.

True Grit is the first Coen brothers film to receive a PG-13 rating since 2003’s Intolerable Cruelty for “some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.”

For the final segment of the film, a one-armed body double was needed for Elizabeth Marvel (who played the adult Mattie). After a nationwide call, the Coen brothers cast Ruth Morris – a 29-year-old social worker and student who was born without a left forearm. Morris has more screen time in the film than Marvel.

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