CRAZY HEART (2009)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Tom Bower, James Keane, Jack Nation, William Marquez, Ryan Bingham, Paul Herman, Rick Dial and Colin Farrell.
Screenplay by Scott Cooper.
Directed by Scott Cooper.
Distributed by Fox Searchlight. 112 minutes. Rated R.
Bad Blake has been on the road for longer than he would care to remember – to the point that his whole life has become a blur of booze-fueled gigs in increasingly tiny, dingy venues.
Bad had been a bit of a country music star once upon a time, however those short-lived glory days are fading fast in the rearview mirror of his beloved 1978 Chevy Suburban pick-up truck. Now he drives by himself to tiny bars and bowling alleys, crashing in seedy motels, playing the same twenty-year-old songs over and over, picking up middle-aged groupies and drinking up the profits until he passes out in some strange bed.
He’s become so numbed to the road that he can’t even be bothered to stop for restroom breaks. One of the first images of Bad that the audience sees is that of the singer pulling up to his latest dead-end gig and dumping out a plastic container of yellow liquid on the parking lot asphalt. He is quite literally pissing his life away, apparently.
Sometimes a good movie can be made sublime by just the right lead performance and Jeff Bridges brings Bad Blake to ornery, pathetic and strangely heroic life with such skill and subtlety that it would be a crime if this performance were not nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, if this movie gains any traction at all, he should be the odds-on favorite to win.
The film has apparently been rushed out on limited release before the end of the year to make it eligible for this year’s Academy Awards – a tact that production company Fox Searchlight also used with great success last year for Mickey Rourke’s showcase The Wrestler.
Even if the movie as a whole doesn’t quite live up to the stellar heights of Bridges’ performance – and really, what could? – Crazy Heart is still a solid and defiantly unsentimental character study.
Blake’s career and life are at low ebb at the beginning of Crazy Heart, when he is offered two shots at redemption. One comes from Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a much-younger journalist who comes to interview Bad and ends up shyly becoming his lover. In Jean and her young son, Bad has the chance to get the family he had lost when he abandoned his son twenty-five years before.
The other shot is through Tommy Sweet, a former sideman from his band who has since become a Nashville superstar. Sweet is played with surprising subtlety and likeability (and a terrific southern accent) by Irish film star Colin Farrell. (Like Bridges, Farrell also does a terrific job as a singer.)
In a less nuanced film, Tommy would be portrayed as a villain trying to take advantage of the old guy. Here, however, the younger guy obviously has great affection for his old mentor and is willing to do anything he can to help him out – including letting Bad open for him in concert and recording any new songs that Bad would write for him. It’s just up to Bad to get past his demons and pride to accept the help of his former protégé.
The music, mostly written by roots producer/performer T Bone Burnett and old Nashville hand Stephen Bruton, is superlative. As Bad points out to Jean after he has written his first song in years, you know a song has something special when it is brand new and yet feels immediately familiar. You can easily see Bad Blake carving out a career of over 30 years on these wonderful songs.
The movie was co-produced by Robert Duvall, who won his only Oscar for the somewhat similarly plotted 1983 film Tender Mercies. (That movie was also about an aging country star that gets a chance at redemption by meeting a younger woman and her small son.) Duvall turns in a supporting role here as well, and while as always he acts with style and verve, his character is the one part of the film that doesn’t quite work. The guy seems to just be there to goose the story forward, opening Bad up with fawning statements along the lines of “I know a guy like you must have had some real adventures on the road.”
However, that is a minor quibble in a film which mostly takes subtle stock of a life somewhat misled and the possibility of learning from past mistakes.
Adding to Crazy Heart’s admirable realism, the film does not stoop to a clichéd stock Hollywood happy ending. Bad Blake’s happy ending may be a little more bittersweet, yet it is undeniably how life would and should proceed for this talented, troubled man.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 16, 2009.