True Grit (2010) Screenplay Analysis

True Grit (2010), written by Joel and Ethan Coen, is an adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis’ novel. Let’s analyze the script.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: June 12, 2009
  • Type: Shooting
  • Page Count: 119
  • Reading Speed: Fast
  • Setting(s): Fort Smith, Arkansas, Indian Territory, Rural Arkansas
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple weeks
  • Genre(s): Western, Coming-of-age
  • Theme(s): Love, Adventure, Growing up, Companionship, Justice, Closure
  • Protagonist Change: Moderate

Overall Thoughts

Ahh, the 2010 remake of the 1969 classic. Okay, not technically a remake, but basically the same thing. What this version of True Grit gets right is essentially following the advice, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, there are a few differences between the 2010 and 1969 versions, but this script follows essentially the same story. And it’s a classic American story. And for those reasons and those reasons alone, it’s a solid script.

Script Strengths

Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn. How many westerns have a female lead? How many westerns have a female teenager lead? Mattie’s character is somewhat absurd and over the top (think caricature), but she’s funny. For example, her opening negotiation (which she wins) with local business-owner Stonehill is hilarious (Pages 10-14). She’s also a straight up an awkward teenager. For example, on Page 48, when Cogburn and LaBoeuf are fighting, she interrupts:

Silence. Crackling fire.


Would you two like to hear the story of “The Midnight Caller”? One of you will have to be “The Caller.” I will tell you what to say. I will do all the other parts myself.

Cringe comedy isn’t all that common, although I did read a script earlier this year (POP (2022)) that excelled in it.

This brings up a larger point. Mattie Ross is caught somewhere between a boy and woman (okay, obviously a girl). The story is just as much a coming-of-age film as it is a true Western. And let’s be honest: No one makes Westerns in the 21st century, but they do make Coming-of-age films. Combining these two genres results in a story that stands the test of time.

Script Neutrals

LaBoeuf is a problematic character. He’s clearly straighter but weaker than Cogburn. He has too much screen time to be one-dimensional, like some of the villains, but doesn’t come across as overly unique. He’s just a lawnman who is searching for a bad guy. So he’s a bit bland, which is fine. But he’s certainly not as developed of a character as Ross and Cogburn.

Script Weaknesses

No major weaknesses.


It’s a classic Western plot, which also contains elements of action/adventure and coming-of-age. The actual posse starts relatively late in the film, and the attempt to capture Chaney is a tad short, especially compared to longer movies with more intensive chase scenes. For example, Butch and Sundance spend most of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) escaping the law (think of how long the scene is where they jump into the river) while the crossing of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) takes an eternity.

In True Grit, Mattie stumbles upon Chaney. So we don’t get the thrilling cat-and-mouse game between the good and bad guys. But since the plot so heavily focuses on the inter-dynamics of the characters, that’s to be expected.


Is Mattie Ross the most developed female character in a Western? Well, I’m far from an expert but I’ve seen every John Wayne movie and the answer is yes, at least when compared to those films. Part of Mattie’s allure is her frequent switch between a girl and a woman. Here are a few examples. She is a girl when:

  • She can’t fire the heavy gun.
  • She can’t get on a horse.
  • She is whipped by LaBoeuf.

She’s a woman when:

  • She out-negotiates an experienced businessman.
  • She convinces Cogburn to let her join the posse.
  • She shoots Chaney again.

Cogburn, on the other hand, is an older drunk with baggage. Like any Western hero, he is somewhat one-dimensional… or we would expect him to be. But Mattie brings him to life. And one can’t quite make the claim that Mattie saves him as much as he saves her, but his final line as he brings Mattie to safety (“I have grown old,” Page 114), does signify his acceptance that his best days are behind him and completes his transformation. He also has an instant classic line, which I believe is in the first film, as well:

Ned Pepper laughs.

Lucky Ned

I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!


Koo kooo roo! blawk!


Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!

Dialogue & Pacing

Some awkward dialogue (Page 29):

LaBoeuf (to Mattie)

You give out very little sugar with your pronouncements. While I sat there watching you I gave some thought to stealing a kiss, though you are very young and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I have a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.

No notes on pacing.

Emotional Impact

I believe this film could be most impactful with younger girls, particularly those who are interested in traditionally masculine activities. Even so, I think it’s more a fun film than a particularly emotionally intense one. However, the ending scene, where Mattie returns to find Cogburn some 25 years later, certainly adds a strong emotional depth to the film.

Best Part of The Script

The early dialogue between Mattie and Cogburn are hilarious. Start on Page 37.

Likewise, the final battle all the way to the ending is particularly intense. Start on Page 104. Worth noting is that there isn’t one strong and short climax, as various moments, such as the death of Ned Pepper and Tom Chaney and the final ride after Mattie is bitten by the snake are both quite intense.