Is the old better than the new? A review of “True Grit” (1969)

If what they say about remakes being worse than the originals is true, the amount of amazing reviews for the current “True Grit” should speak volumes about the original. The original “True Grit” exemplifies what a mountain western should be, unclassifiable. The characters are diverse and flawed; the content gritty and shocking at times; and the scenery unforgettable.

The premise of the movie is not original. There are many movies that involve the familiar storyline of a hero being recruited to bring down a villain, but the way in which it is presented puts it in a new light. The heroes are flawed and each reaches their true hubris. The overly showy and egotistical Texas Ranger completes his objective only to be abandoned for dead, the tomboyish controlling female lead spends most of the movie trying to have her way only to end up paralysed and stricken down by fear, while John Wayne’s role of Rooster Cogburn is not the most glamorous presentation of a hero of the wild west.

The plot focuses around Mattie Ross, a young girl who seeks vengeance on the man who killed her father. Due to her unrelenting spirit, she convinces the crude and boisterous Rooster Cogburn to aid her in her quest to bring the man to justice, though she also attracts the help of the Texas Ranger, Le Boeuf. A majority of the movie is spent focusing on Mattie and her attempts to get the men on board while keeping them mindful of her desire for the justice to be taken out as she wills it. As the story progresses, the movie takes several dark turns as the hunt for the criminals turns into a race against time and nature. While the ending is not satisfying in the normal sense that modern movies present, it is deep and thoughtful with reflection abounding.

Where the movie stands out other than the story is the setting and character development. Every character is deep and is by no means single-sided. As for the scenery, a majority was filmed in Colorado near the town of Ouray and, especially in the modern world of today, is a special reflection of the natural beauty of the mountainous west. Where the film also stands out is the reality of the movie. Despite being a more serious western, there are plenty of humorous, awkward scenes, alongside scenes that are decidedly not politically correct and cast deep moments of introspection into our times.

It is entirely understandable that John Wayne received the Oscar for this powerhouse performance and is surprising that it did not garner greater awards such as best picture. Nonetheless, it is an amazing historical film that could hold a flame to other greats such as “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca.”

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