Thursday, July 4, 2013

Books to Movies: True Grit

Adam C. Zern sounds off on the film adaptations of Charles Portis's True Grit:

"True Grit is an interesting book in that it has undergone two separate film adaptations from two very different time periods and filmmakers.  The first film adaptation starring John Wayne was decent for its time, so I'm told, but hasn't aged very well since its release.  The newest adaptation, adapted for the screen and directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen, is straight forward in its violence, unflinching with its characters, and exactly the film it should have been to reflect Charles Portis's excellent book.

I knew essentially nothing of Charles Portis's True Grit when I was given a copy to read.  I consider it a masterful book with truly memorable characters and moments, and I believe that's what the most recent film adaptation of True Grit is so perfectly attuned to.  It understands its characters, their simple-minded and guarded motivations, and it presents all of this in a very gritty and extremely believable setting.  The two forces to be reckoned with, Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn, deserve the amount of attention given to them in the book, and it is their troubled yet caring relationship which adds a brilliant layer of sympathy over top of a story which could simply have been about revenge and very little else.

The film adaptation of True Grit starring John Wayne is a good example, in my opinion, of what could go wrong with an adaptation.  (John Wayne was most certainly not Rooster Cogburn as much as a lot of people would like to believe).  The latest film adaptation of True Grit by the Cohen brothers is a perfect example of what an excellent film adaptation should look like and more importantly feel like.  I consider the original source material, Charles Portis's True Grit, and its latest film adaptation works of art and wonderful pieces of entertainment."

Other topics of interest:
Books to Movies: The Count of Monte Cristo
Books to Movies: The Princess Bride
Books to Movies: The Prestige
Adaptation, Please: Mistborn


  1. Okay, stay with me. The John Wayne adaptation can be seen as a truer retelling of the book. Portis' story comes across as silly in some points. The girl is clearly in over head, and very ill-informed at times. The film (and Wayne's interpretation of Rooster specifically) captures this "collection of outcast" sort of feel. Like we are watching a rag-tag group of misfits hunt down the mean old man who shot the little girl's daddy. In a way, in reading I got the feeling that Portis was playing with me as a reader. Asking me, maybe even daring me to see the logic of her actions. But the Cohen brothers gave me something much more profound. They looked at the story and instead of adapting it, they interpreted it. They took the story at face value, this is a story of justice, and revenge and how the two are inherently intertwined. So Rooster is darker, drunker but also more human. The girl is snottier, smugger, but wiser and stronger.
    The landscape is torn in two directions. At once cold harsh and closing in around the two, then changing to sweeping stark barren, leaving them abandoned. I loved what Cohen's did, but in a way I love it because they took the book, boiled it down and retold it accepting Portis' challenge of finding the reality of a small girl on the verge of puberty traveling into the wilderness with no worry of sexual violence, no worry of death, with a much older, disinterested man to hunt down and kill her father's murderer.
    That's what I've always loved about their films. They accept the illogic, create as logic, then sell it to me with beautiful cinematic language.
    Dammit, why'd I have to write my thesis on Aronofsky, this movie was better!
    AnneMarie Donahue

    1. Very valid points. Perhaps I'll have to re-watch the John Wayne version and see what I get from it.