Coen Brothers' New 'True Grit' Delivers a Teen Hero Without Fangs or Wand

Andrew Dalton

The biggest teenage badass in books is headed to the screen this Christmas. And there's not a wizard or a vampire anywhere near her. Not that she couldn't take 'em.

For years, I've been talking people's ears off at dinner tables and bar booths, begging them to read Charles Portis's True Grit

Most people blow me off because it's an obscure old Western written by an old man from Arkansas -- and worse was made into a hokey late John Wayne movie (that did have its moments; he won an Oscar for it).

The greatness of the book comes from the young heroine and narrator 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who sets out to kill the man who killed her daddy.

Mattie Ross's irresistible opening lines: 

"People do not give it credence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just 14 years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas and robbed him of his life and horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band. Here is what happened ..."

Note to my young daughter: If anyone murders me, or for that matter if anyone steals a parking space I had my eye on, chase them down and avenge me!

Now that my friends see the Coen Brothers are making the book into a film to be released for the Christmas Oscar frenzy -- and that the John Wayne role is being played by Jeff Bridges (the first time the Coens and The Dude have worked together since The Big Lebowski), they're starting to pay attention. In an even bigger upgrade, the Glen Campbell part will be played by Matt Damon.

The Coens have said the movie isn't a remake of the Wayne flick but an attempt to stay more faithful to the book. That means more focus on its awesome main character -- who will be played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. The brothers held an open casting call for the role and said they didn't care about experience.

I'm torn, because this all just sounds too perfect. My favorite book made by my favorite filmmakers. I'm just hoping it's closer to No Country for Old Men -- or at least Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? -- than the Coens' Tom Hanks clunker The Ladykillers.

But for now I'll just keep re-reading the book.

Have you read True Grit? Interested in seeing the movie?

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