True Grit

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Rooster: I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned, or see you hanged at Fort Smith at Judge Parker's convenience. Which'll it be?
Ned: I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!
Rooster: Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!


True Grit is an 1968 Western novel by Charles Portis. Its main plot revolves around planter's daughter Mattie Ross, seeking revenge for her father's murder—with the aid of a notorious marshal Rooster Cogburn -- "The meanest one, double-tough, knowing no fear" aging Badass drunkard—and a younger Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. The plot is played straight, involving some chasing, some tracking, some humor, much shooting, saving the girl from a snake pit, one-to-four final showdown of Rooster against bandits and the final scene of Rooster riding away, proud and alone (sadly, there's no sunset).

The book was adapted to film twice. The first version, released in 1969, was directed by Henry Hathaway and starred John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. The movie had two sequels: 1975 Rooster Cogburn (original release title Rooster Cogburn (... and the Lady), starring John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn), and 1978 True Grit (made for TV, starring Warren Oates).

A second adaptation was released on December 22, 2010, directed by The Coen Brothers. Staying closer to the source material, it places a greater emphasis on Mattie, played impressively by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld. Jeff Bridges as Rooster and Matt Damon as LaBoeuf costar. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, but won none.

Tropes used in True Grit include:

Both films and the book provide examples of

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The two actresses who portray Mattie Ross in both the 1969 and 2010 versions (Kim Darby and Hailee Steinfeld) are somewhat prettier than described in the book.
  • Adorkable: Mattie in the rare moments where she actually shows she's still a young girl, like when she's trying to ease the tension between Rooster and LaBoeuf in the first campfire scene.
  • Affably Evil: Ned Pepper. When Mattie is captured, he specifically forbids anyone from harming her and tells her that they will leave her unharmed in a civilized place. However, he still puts her at the mercy of a man with every reason to kill her.
  • Age Lift:
    • In the 1969 adaptation, John Wayne was 61 at the time, while the book describes Rooster as being in his early forties. Jeff Corey (playing Chaney) was in his 50s, while Chaney is in his mid twenties in the novel.
    • In the 2010 version, most of the male lead actors are older than their respective characters were in the book. Jeff Bridges was 60 when the film was made. Matt Damon (39) plays LaBoeuf, who is about 30 in the book, and Josh Brolin (42) plays Chaney. Barry Pepper is about the same age as Ned Pepper is in the book, though. It helps that Damon and Brolin are Older Than They Look.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Mattie's father's revolver, which she tries to kill the murderer with, and eventually (in the first movie) gives to Rooster and (in the second movie) shoots Chaney with when she first meets him during the chase. Surprisingly, it was a Crowning Moment of Funny.
  • Anti-Hero: Rooster is a very strong Type III.
  • An Arm and a Leg: In the book and 2010 film, Mattie has her arm amputated in the end, due to a rattlesnake bite.
  • Asian Store Owner: The Chinese man who runs the store where Cogburn likes to doze off.
  • Automaton Horses: Averted. The trio spends much time caring for their horses, and when Rooster is riding Blackie hard and long to save Mattie, he ends up collapsing, and it's pretty obvious he's done for, even before Rooster puts him out of his misery.
  • Badass: See the quotes.
  • Badass and Child Duo
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • LaBoeuf rescues Mattie when Chaney tries to kill silence her.
    • Rooster appears to have abandoned Mattie out of convenience when she's captured, but LaBoeuf (who heard Mattie's shot) tells her he's coming back due to a bounty for Ned Pepper's gang.
  • Bounty Hunter: Rooster.
  • Butt Monkey: LaBoeuf is shot, tied up, beaten, trampled, bites through his tongue, and mocked repeatedly throughout the film.
    • The Coen Brothers appear to have kept the character alive in their adaptation, not for a happier ending, but to make one last joke at his expense.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Lots of these.
    • A literal examples in Mattie's father's gun which she carries around with her for 3/4 of the movie, and eventually shoots.
    • Mattie's lawyer J. Noble Daggett, whose name she, as LaBoeuf said in the original, draws like a gun. He is a voice over in the 2010 film, but he shows up in the end of the 1969 film.
    • When Rooster explains (i.e. taunts) the consequences (mortification (i.e. gangrene)) of not treating a deep wound to a prisoner that has been shot. Later in the 2010 film, Mattie loses an arm to the effects of snake venom.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The outlaw henchman who could only make chicken noises in both films.
  • Damsel in Distress: Mattie. Oh, is there a classical western without one? Though she's less so in the original book and especially the 2010 film.
  • Dirty Coward: Tom Chaney, who attacks only when the opportunity shows itself.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: Mattie sure does. She wears down Col. Stonehill into re-compensating her for the two horses that Tom Chaney stole after murdering her father. One of them did not even belong to the Rosses, but Frank Ross had paid for the use of him. She also sells back some Mustang ponies her father bought, despite Stonehill's insistence that he doesn't want them.

Mattie: You have not traded poorly.
Stonehill: Oh, certainly not. I am paying you for a horse I do not possess and have bought back a string of useless ponies which I cannot sell again.

  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The book and 2010 film both Deconstruct the classic Western, populating it with drunks, puffed-up know-nothings, and amoral bandits rather than romantic heroes. But when it comes down to it, Rooster, LaBoeuf, and especially Mattie demonstrate real heroism and courage, and they succeed in bringing down their man.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Rooster. After this role brought Wayne the Academy Award for Best Actor, he said: "If I'd known this, I'd have put that eyepatch on 40 years ago." Cogburn does not wear an eyepatch in the novel, however.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on a novel by Charles Portis.
  • Final Battle: (See above).
  • Formally-Named Pet: The cat's name is General Sterling Price, after the American Civil War general of the same name.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Rooster will catch Chaney, no problem. This doesn't mean he won't be a huge jerk along the way and bitch about it the entire time. Lampshaded when Mattie specifically seeks him out for being the "meanest" Marshall available.
  • The Gunslinger: All the main cast, that's a western!
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Parker, actual historical person and one of the trope namers.
  • Historical Domain Character: The novel and the 2010 film end at a Wild West Show run by former infamous criminals Cole Younger and Frank James (brother of Jesse), who would have been out of prison by this time. Older Mattie is quite respectful to Mr. Younger, but has a few choice words to say to Mr. James. Whether this is because of James' lack of courtesy to her -he does not stand up when she approaches him- or because he never served a sentence for his crimes (unlike Younger) is unclear.
  • Jerkass: LaBoeuf, who openly brags about being a Texas ranger and gets constantly angry at Mattie for getting insulted over it (later beating her), though he gets better.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Where is Chaney to be convicted and hanged, and for what? In Arkansas, for the murder of Mattie's father? Or in Texas, for the murder of a state Senator (and his dog)? Made irrelevant by Chaney dying in the final battle.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Mattie in all three.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Averted. LaBoeuf looks like he's going to be one. But he turns out to be tough, tenacious, honorable and a crack shot. Still a pompous windbag though.
  • Outlaw: Chaney and Pepper's gang.
  • Plucky Girl: Mattie in all three.
  • Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Say it with me: Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: LaBoeuf seems to consider himself this. None of the non-Texans are impressed.
  • Rancher: Mattie's family.
  • Retired Outlaw: Prior to becoming a Marshall, Rooster's activities included robbing high-interest banks and being a member of Quantrill's Raiders. However, he does insist quite strongly that he was not a murderer, and only ever stole from banks, not individual people.
  • Shoot the Dog: Rooster puts Little Blackie out of his misery after he's near dead from exhaustion.
  • Shop Keeper: In the 1969 film, also a Funny Foreigner—an old Chinese man, whose store Rooster likes to crash in. In the 2010 film, a terrible haggler. The Chinese vendor appears in the 2010 movie as well, in about two scenes, one of which he's smoking opium.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Done with a nod to realism - Mattie, due to her age and stature, has trouble firing a gun half her size.
  • Spank the Cutie: LaBoeuf whips Mattie after she crosses the river to get to them. For unknown reasons (a censored TV version?) nobody remembers this scene being in the 1969 film. It is, though.
  • Spock Speak: Everyone in the novel and both films sounds very odd because they do not use contractions, true to the time period.
  • Title Drop: Mattie has heard that Rooster is "a man with true grit."
  • Undertaker
  • US Marshal: Rooster is one.
  • The Western
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the novel and 2010 film, the last we see or hear from LaBoeuf is when Rooster leaves the scene of the final battle with Mattie to seek medical attention. Rooster is forced to leave him behind because there's only one horse left. He promises to send someone to get him, and LaBoeuf insists he'll be fine. He's never mentioned again in the 2010 film. In the novel, Mattie says that for years she tried and failed to find out what happened to him. The 1969 film solves this problem by killing him via a fall from a horse shortly after the final battle ends.
  • The Wild West
  • You Killed My Father: Mattie. She actually faces her father's murderer and even shoots him, but the gun misfires.In the 2010 film she shoots him the first time with the same result, then finishes the job later on.

Tropes specific to the original novel

  • As the Good Book Says...: Mattie regularly quotes from the Bible during her narration, referring to specific passages.
  • Badass Moustache: Rooster Cogburn, who is described as looking like a one-eyed Grover Cleveland.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mattie seems generally more upbeat than she does at the end of the 2010 film (she says she's content with the life she's led rather than act regretful), but the feeling is still somewhat melancholy, especially when it comes to her relationship with Cogburn.
  • Cats Are Mean: Adult Mattie is thoroughly convinced that this is the case, and even cites Luke 8: 26-33 as scriptural "proof" for it.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: At one point, the narration says:

It was a cashier's check for $2,750 drawn on the Grangers Trust Co. of Topeka, Kansas, to a man named Marshall Purvis. I said, "This is a cashier's check for $2,750 drawn on the Grangers Trust Co. of Topeka, Kansas, to a man named Marshall Purvis."

  • Eyepatch of Power: Averted. While Cogburn has only one eye, he doesn't wear an eyepatch. This was changed for both films to accommodate actors who obviously still had two eyes.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to the explicit quoting of Bible passages, there are a number of more subtle allusions to scripture in the story. One of the more prominent examples involves two criminals who, prior to their deaths, strongly resemble the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. One is unrepentant, the other accepts redemption and is promised a place in Paradise.
  • Sweet Tooth: Rooster enjoys eating honey cakes with jam.

Tropes specific to the 1969 film

  • Bittersweet Ending: The happiest ending of the three versions for sure, but LaBoeuf's death kind of dampens things.
  • California Doubling: The story takes place in the Ozarks, but the landscape in the movie doesn't look like the Ozarks.
  • Death by Adaptation: LaBoeuf.
  • Death by Irony: After Mattie is knocked into the snakepit, Chaney makes a crack about how there will be a corpse in that pit soon enough. He's then shot and falls, dead, into the pit himself. Mattie is rescued, but Chaney's corpse is just left there to rot.
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Mattie's pretty serious about the revenge and makes Rooster and LaBoeuf take her with them. Even though she shows enough guts to impress them into taking her along, when things get serious, she's the Damsel in Distress. In the book and remake, Mattie is pretty skilled at fighting though, and again, 1969 Mattie can still be pretty badass in other areas.
  • Killed Off for Real: LaBoeuf.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: LaBoeuf shoots a turkey and proudly brings it to the party who complain that it's all ripped up. Too much gun, Rooster says. Ah, what can he know, he's not from Texas!
  • One-Scene Wonder: Strother Martin was brilliant as Colonel G. Stonehill, the stingy and stubborn owner of the livery where Mattie purchases Blackie. He isn't afraid to play Mattie's haggling game, and throws out a number of memorable quotes during their arguments.

Tropes specific to the 2010 film

    • There's also:

Rooster: "Well. That did not pan out."

    • Perhaps the greatest example:
  • Chekov's Gun
    • Rooster and Mattie take care to lay down a rope to ward off snakes wherever they bed down for the evening. As it is winter, Ranger LaBoeuf says it is unnecessary. However, during the climactic scene, Mattie stirs up some dormant snakes that awaken and strike.
    • The snakes are sleeping in a pit that LaBoeuf had only moments earlier pointed out to Mattie in a throwaway line talking about something else.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance

Rooster: Damn shame. I would give three dollars right now for a pickled buffalo tongue.

    • The uncomfortable pseudo romantic moments between LaBoeuf and Mattie.
    • Played with when Rooster frees and chases off a mule that two Native American children were goading outside a trading post, then proceeds to repeatedly and literally kick them off of the porch to the ground. This has presumably more to do with their treatment of the mule than with their ethnic background, however.
  • Determinator: Mattie is almost inhumanly obsessed with avenging her father.
  • Downer Ending: While the climactic confrontation has a positive outcome, the conclusion set twenty-five years later reveals that Mattie has grown up into a caustic old maid with few or no friends, Cogburn died before they could meet again, and she hasn't heard from LaBoeuf since the shootout with Pepper's gang. Can be seen as a Bittersweet Ending, depending on how content you may think Mattie is (in the original book, she's perfectly fine with things), or how bad you think things turned out.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: Mattie does. She has to visibly force herself not to haggle with Rooster since she needs his good will.
  • Fingore
  • Foreshadowing: Mentioning that snakes are usually asleep at this time of year, and taking precautions anyway.
  • Gallows Humor: Literally! The most cringe-worthy, and yet still funny, is both of the white hangers-to-be are given time to say their last words, but the Native American one has his bag forced over his head just as he begins to give his, cutting him off.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Mattie's hairstyle tells everybody she's just a young girl.
  • Guile Hero: Mattie wins battles through her intelligence, will, and force of personality alone - Rooster turns her down twice before she gets a grudging agreement to do the task, and she has to catch up to him the third time.
  • Handy Cuffs: Two outlaws having their hands restrained in this way allowed one to kill the other with a knife before he could talk.
  • Human Resources: The dead body Rooster and Mattie find hung thirty feet up from a tree over the trail. After Mattie cuts it down, a passing Indian asks to take it with him - as Rooster puts it, "a dead body's gonna be worth something to someone." Later on they find out it ended up with the Bear Man, who pulled out all its teeth but offered to trade the rest of it to them.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Zig-zagged in one scene where LaBoeuf and a drunken Rooster try to show off their marksmanship, and both hit and miss some very difficult moving targets (and Rooster once missed a not very small, non-moving target). The scene with Rooster shooting at, and missing, the whiskey bottle proves to be a deconstruction of the Eyepatch of Power. Though the eyepatch looks cool and Rooster is plenty Badass, it does provide a handicap, especially when combined with his alcoholism. Just before he shoots the bottle, he has to tilt his head much more in order for his good eye, on the left side, to line up properly with the gun in his right hand. He even has to holster his gun on the left side in order to see it.
  • Insistent Terminology: A brief example, but Forrester the Bear Man makes a couple of specific references to "the original Greaser Bob." Apparently, there were multiple Greaser Bobs in the Choctaw Nation...
  • In Vino Veritas: Sort of. Rooster finally screams at LaBoeuf and Mattie that their trail has gone cold, that he's out of his league, that he has no clue why he agreed to this job, and that all of them are gullible idiots, prompting LaBoeuf to leave again and Mattie to get shaken a little. We say "sort of" because she runs into Cheney the very next morning.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arguably all THREE of the main characters qualify.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: Both times Mattie fires guns, they give one hell of a recoil. Possibly justified, given her small stature and lack of experience with firearms.
    • The Sharps rifle in particular has a beastly amount of recoil; a grown man holding it incorrectly could easily be knocked off balance.
  • Low-Angle Shot: Tom Chaney when he starts formulating an intent to kill Mattie.
  • MacGuffin: The remaining $50. Not only is it one of Cogburn's only motives for helping Mattie, it's so significant that Mattie spends 25 years trying to reward Cogburn. She then finds that he died three days ago, and that the money is of no use to Cogburn, hence why she moves him to her family plot.
  • Mercy Kill: Rooster does this to Little Blackie in order to not making him suffer since it's almost dead exhausted.
  • Never My Fault: Rooster tossing an empty bottle into the air to shoot at, and missing. Three times.

Rooster: That Chinamen is running them cheap shells on me again.
LaBoeuf: I thought you gonna say the sun was in your eyes. That is to say, your eye.

  • No Sense of Personal Space: Mattie tried to talk to Rooster while he was in the outhouse.
  • Not So Harmless: Though not nearly as cunning as LaBoeuf insists he is, Tom Chaney is much more ruthless and cruel than his Good Ol' Boy dialect and attitude would imply.
  • One-Scene Wonder
    • J.K. Simmons as the voice of Mattie's lawyer.
    • The old man with the bear headdress that stops briefly to talk to Rooster and Mattie.
    • And the banker with whom Mattie haggles over a horse.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: LaBoeuf.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: LaBoeuf is shot straight through the shoulder but shrugs it off. Rooster gets shot by one of Ned Pepper's men in the finale but isn't hindered.
  • Public Execution: Three men are publicly hanged early on in the film.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Why did it have to be snakes?!
  • Rule of Perception: Two extremely rare aversions. First, the sound of Rooster's gunshot is delayed by several seconds. Second, there is a noticeable delay between the report and impact of LaBoeuf's rifle. Most people are used to instant sound effects and hitscan weapons, so this may be a case of Reality Is Unrealistic.
  • Scenery Porn: Unsurprisingly a major focus, given that it was done by the Coen Brothers. Credit also due to their frequent collaborator, DP Roger Deakins, who may be the best in the industry in that position.
  • Shout-Out: A rather subtle one: The shot of Old Mattie standing in front of Rooster's grave at sunset is an exact recreation of the opening and closing shots of Unforgiven.
  • Suck Out the Poison: Done realistically. Incisions are made first (although not as big as they should be), and all it does is buy some time; the victim still ends up extremely ill, delirious, and in urgent need of an amputation.
  • Taking You with Me: Ned Pepper tries to do this with Rooster after the shoot-out in the glen. As Pepper himself says, he is shot to pieces, he's miles from civilization, and his gang's doctor has fled, so he knows he's not walking away from the fight, but he can at least kill Rooster who is trapped under the corpse of his horse. Ultimately averted when LaBoeuf snipes Pepper from a cliff at least 400 meters away, saving Rooster's life.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Rooster and LaBoeuf.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Even by Old West standards, a 14-year-old girl that hellbent on vengeance gives everybody pause.
  • Truer to the Text: The Coen brothers have said that this was their intention.
  • Water Is Dry: After Mattie has her horse swim across the river, she comes out and there is a shot of her looking at Rooster and La Bouef. She has a few drops falling from her hat, but her clothes are nowhere near as soaked as they were a moment ago.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: If you look closely at the final shootout, you'll notice that the gang's doctor lives. He isn't mentioned afterwards, him and his horse are absent from long shots, and Rooster doesn't try to find him in order to treat Mattie after the snake bite.
  • Wise Beyond Her Years: Mattie, incredibly smart, stern and determined for her age. Makes sense because of all she's been through and her previous responsibilities. Yet the 2010 adaptation's dark tone at the end is a deconstruction of this- her insistence on getting her way, even through intimidation, may have been cute when she was a child but these traits did not serve her well during her adult years.
  • You Make Me Sic: Mattie continually points out Rooster's misspellings - even a quarter-century later!

Infoboxes for the 1969 film: