In Charles Portis' most famous novel, True Grit from 1968, his unadorned prose describes Rooster Cogburn as a "pitiless man who loves to pull a cork." The reclusive writer, now 77, is the subject of a short feature on the Blu-ray edition of Joel and Ethan Coen's recent adaptation of the story.
True Grit had famously been made into a film in 1969 by veteran Western director Henry Hathaway. It starred John Wayne, who won a best-actor Oscar as the hard-drinking U.S. marshal. The new version hews more closely to the spare poetry of Portis' work. Jeff Bridges plays Cogburn, hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld in a memorable debut) to settle accounts after her rancher father was gunned down by one of his hands, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
Scripture-quoting Mattie has the seriousness and fire of a young religious fanatic, and Rooster's tales of dispatching bad men convince her that he is a man of "true grit.". Mattie and the lawman head off to Indian country looking for Chaney. They are joined by a rather prissy Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who calls himself "LaBeef" and is in it for the reward money.
Film Westerns have always been used as metaphors for whatever the director or studio wanted. Wayne's True Grit harks back to a simplistic good-guy/bad-guy approach.
Today, Mattie's righteous words have a different ring. The new True Grit is a rousing old-fashioned Western while giving us a picture of the Old West through a modern prism.
When Wayne played Rooster, he was playing John Wayne, whose image meant something on American screens for more than 30 years. No one should underestimate that.
But Bridges is an actor's actor; his Rooster captures the larger-than-life Western hero.
Besides the Portis piece, there are a number of other interesting features on the new disc, including segments on costumes, guns of the era and the cinematography of Roger Deakins.
True Grit retails for $29.99 or $39.99 on Blu-ray.