Early last year, Joel and Ethan Coen said they might film their own version of the Charles Portis novel True Grit. The news bubbled back up recently when Greg Mottola and Bill Hader started talking about their adaptation of another Portis novel, Dog of the South, while promoting Adventureland. Suddenly the True Grit story was new news, despite the fact that we hadn’t heard anything since the questionable Daily Mail report from February ’08.
So is Variety on firm ground when it says tonight that the adaptation has been bumped to the front of the Coen production queue, pushing back The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and other potential pictures? After running a trio of articles this weekend blasting blogs, et al, for running with unconfirmed info, I’ll give the trade the benefit of the doubt.
Plan is evidently to follow the book more closely than the John Wayne movie managed; the Coen script will stick to the perspective of the young girl who is tracking her father’s killer with the aid of two lawmen.
This will mark a bunch of firsts for the Coen Brothers: it will be the first film they’ve done for Paramount proper, and their first to feature a teen protagonist. It will also be a period western, filling out their directorial dance card, which is already crowded with other period films.
But will it generate their first proper sequel when, in their fading years, the duo decides to just do a straight remake of Rooster Cogburn?
EDIT: I had cause to revisit this late 2007 Guardian interview with the Coen Brothers, in which they mention the Western script they’ve written, “with a lot of violence in it. There’s scalping and hanging … it’s good. Indians torturing people with ants, cutting their eyelids off.” Ethan says, “it’s a proper western, a real western, set in the 1870s.” The Portis novel is set in 1873. Not having read the book I’m unsure about the ant and eyelid torture, but could elements of the original Coen script end up in this? Or were they simply talking about True Grit at the time?
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey