Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) is a loyal, no-nonsense daughter to her father and takes care of his money for him, as she does today when he is going away on business. However, that night the companion he is travelling with, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), gets drunk during a poker game and protests loudly that he has been cheated, toting his rifle: in the scuffle, Mattie's father is shot dead by Chaney who escapes into the darkness. From then on, Mattie makes up her mind to track down the killer, but she is at a disadvantage being a teenage girl with no allies in law enforcement. Does she let this put her off? No she does not, and soon is set on hiring over-the-hill Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to help her, having heard he's one of the best. But what if he doesn't want her around?
True Grit was the film that Wayne finally won his Oscar for after decades of being overlooked by the Academy, certainly in the opinion of his fans. Was it a sentimental, "We'd better give him a statuette before he shuffles off his mortal coil" gesture? Perhaps it was, and as he shows a measure of self-spoofing awareness in the role there is some credence to that argument, but it could also have been a nod towards the way the cinema landscape was changing by the end of the decade. After this, there would be The French Connection, The Exorcist, The Godfather and so on, all part of a new direction in Hollywood films and compared to them True Grit looked especially traditional, harking back to a golden age of westerns.
In fact, a spot of swearing apart the film looks as if it could have been made ten, maybe fifteen years earlier - compare it with how modern the Best Picture winner for 1969 Midnight Cowboy must have looked in its day. Despite all this, it's not exclusively the domain of the nostalgically indulgent, as Wayne really is very enjoyable to watch, combining comedy, drama and action deftly and with great charm. He may be getting on, overweight and sporting an eyepatch, but he's still recognisably as much the hero he ever was. However, during the first half Cogburn doesn't appear as often as you'd like him to as the story is mainly concerned with the travails of Mattie, meaning a lot of repetitive scenes where the forthright girl rubs people up the wrong way with her strong willed, plain speaking nature.
One of those people who Mattie irritates is Cogburn, who agrees that the villain Chaney should be caught and brought to justice, but not that Mattie should be one of the party who bring him in no matter how much she protests. Another annoyed character is Texan lawman LaBoeuf, played by Glen Campbell in a much maligned performance although the role didn't exactly require Laurence Olivier and he's not too jarring. Eventually the three of them set aside their differences and the excitement can finally begin as they set out into Indian territory after the murderer, but they reckon without Chaney's accomplices who he has joined, led by outlaw Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall). True Grit was adapted from Charles Portis' novel by Marguerite Roberts and tends to focus on Mattie when the person you want to see more of is Cogburn, but that's testament to Wayne's ease with the role. If it's unimaginative in many ways, he brings out the touching side. Some would say sentimental. Music by Elmer Bernstein.