‘True Grit’: The Major Differences Between the Original and the Remake

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credits: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

One of John Wayne’s most famous films “True Grit” got the Coen brothers’ treatment back in 2010. While similar, both films were very different.

Both films were adaptations of a Charles Portis novel. While the original is beloved as a classic, the remake actually ended up following the spirit of the novel better. It’s hard to say which film is ultimately better because they’re very different in several ways. The original had John Wayne at his best. Meanwhile the remake was grittier and darker.

Outsider took a look at some of the biggest differences between the two versions of the film.

There’s No Cat in the 2010 ‘True Grit’

John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn had an adorable companion throughout the 1969 original. Perhaps, it was to show audiences that there was a soft side underneath all that gruffness. But Cogburn adopted an orange tabby he dubbed General Sterling Price. It gave the original a bit of a light-hearted edge.

But in the Coen brothers’ remake, there was no room for the cat. They opted to remove the pet, and as a result, Jeff Bridges’ take on the character comes across as a bit grittier and colder. The difference may seem small, but it’s a stark reminder that the two Cogburns are very different characters.

La Boeuf Has a Different Motivation and Fate

Another character that’s slightly different in the remake than the original is Texas Ranger La Boeuf. The Ranger joins both Mattie and Cogburn in their quest to hunt down Tom Chaney. But La Boeuf has his own motivation for finding Chaney in the remake. He doesn’t really care that he killed Mattie’s father, so much as Chaney is also wanted for killing a Texas State Senator.

Again, this creates a different dynamic between the characters. Mattie’s and La Boeuf’s partnership is more uneasy in the remake. She wants to bring him to justice on her father’s account and not the Texas senator’s. Meanwhile, La Boeuf is doing his sworn duty. It’s a little less heroic and a little more political in the remake, which fits the tone of that movie.

La Boeuf becomes key for another difference between the two versions of “True Grit.” To add to the tension and body count, La Boeuf dies in the original. The Ranger is killed after getting his head bashed by a rock and saving Mattie and Cogburn from snakes. But in the remake, La Boeuf survives his encounter with Chaney. He and Mattie go their separate ways never to see each other again afterward.

Mattie’s Father’s Murder Is Shown in the Original ‘True Grit’

Well, the original was a tad bit more gritty in this regard. In both versions of “True Grit,” Chaney kills Mattie’s father. That sets off her whole quest for vengeance and recruiting Cogburn. But Mattie’s father murder is only shown in the original film. Seeing the murder helps audiences’ relate to Mattie and her quest.

But the remake skips straight to the grizzly aftermath with Mattie collecting her father’s body. It probably saved on runtime even if not showing the act removes audiences a little from Mattie’s headspace.

Rooster Cogburn Is a Different Character in the Remake

Well, there are several differences between the two Rooster Cogburns in “True Grit.” Wayne’s version comes across as the nobler of the two. Wayne embodies the character with a little bit of his cowboy honor. So despite the roughness and irritability of the character, audiences can see the good cowboy underneath.

Meanwhile, Bridges’ portrayal is a much more torn character. He’s ultimately well-meaning but also battles his demons, namely the drink throughout the movie. His Cogburn does form a partnership with Mattie. But you never get the true sense of a deepening bond as you do in the original.

For that matter, the two films differ in Cogburn’s ultimate fate. In the original, Cogburn ends the film alive, which ultimately leads to one of Wayne’s few sequels. Wayne and Mattie end on good terms with her agreeing to one day bury Wayne’s Cogburn in her family plot. Meanwhile, the remake flashes forward 25 years in the future. Mattie finds Cogburn dead and buries him in her family plot as a sign of respect.

Mattie Loses an Arm in the ‘True Grit’ Remake

The other big difference we should mention is Mattie’s ultimate fate. They say when you go on a quest for revenge, it’s best to dig two graves. Mattie may not die in either the original or the remake. But her quest definitely costs her in the 2010 version of the film.

In the original, Mattie breaks her arm and gets bitten by a rattlesnake. But she ends the movie in a sling with it mentioned that she would heal up just fine. Meanwhile, the remake makes Mattie’s ultimate fate that much more gritty and gruesome. The character has her arm amputated after it becomes infected from the snake bite. She ends the film in the future minus an arm in her pursuit. But both versions end with Mattie successfully avenging her father.