Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of the John Wayne version of True Grit. It is, in fact, the only John Wayne movie that I own. I watched it just a few weeks ago, not in preparation for seeing the new Coen Brothers version, but simply because I like it. However, that meant that it was fresh in my mind when I went and saw the new film. Now that the movie has become a huge success, I've noticed in almost every interview with stars, directors, whomever, that the interviewee goes to great lengths to say that the new movie is not a remake of the John Wayne version, but rather a straight adaptation of the book by Charles Portis, almost as if they're trying to distance themselves from comparisons before they can be made.
Now here's the thing. I've read the novel and yes, the new version is closer to the book than the John Wayne movie. But, that basically means that they added some scenes that weren't in the first film, not that the John Wayne version didn't follow the book. There were a couple of changes, one a major spoiler that I'll leave out, but really the two films aren't that different. In fact there were several places where I almost felt I was watching an alternate reality version of the John Wayne movie.
Mostly it was the dialog. Both movies pull most of their dialog almost word for word from the book. So some scenes, particularly the ones with the bad guys Lucky Ned Pepper and Tom Chaney, are very very close. Also, and I've no idea how many times the Cohen brothers might have seen the first True Grit, the staging of several scenes is very close.
The differences I did note were things like the relationships of the characters. John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn and Glenn Campbell's Laboeuf seemed more like friendly sparring partners and by the end of the film they seemed to have a grudging respect for one another. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon as the same characters just don't get along. They don't like each other and that doesn't change much. This is indeed closer to the book.
A great fuss has been made over the performance of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, and she did indeed do a great job. However a similar fuss was made over Kim Darby in the same role back in 1969.
Anyway, I really did like the Coen Brother's True Grit. The actor's performances are more naturalistic. The look of the film is, ahem, grittier. The violence is more realistic. I saw it with my dad, who had virtually no memory of the John Wayne film and he enjoyed the new one tremendously. So I'm glad it's a hit. However, concerning the remake question, to paraphrase the bard, I think they're protesting too much.