Appellate Judge Tom Becker spent all night writing this review. Now he's the bleary kind.
Our review of Crazy Heart (Blu-Ray), published May 3rd, 2010, is also available.
The harder the life, the sweeter the song.
"For some reason that I can't explain, I keep feeling obliged to apologize for these ugly rooms and, well, being less than you probably imagined me to be."
Facts of the Case
Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges, Stay Hungry) is an aging country musician. He used to be something of a star, but now is getting by playing small bars and bowling alleys.
Bad's always lived up to his name, drinking, smoking, fooling with different women, and just generally letting his promise slip away. He doesn't write songs anymore, even though he used to be one of the best, and even though a guy who used to play back up for him is now a star, and is dying for Bad to give him some new material.
During a gig in Santa Fe, he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stranger Than Fiction), who's doing a story about him for a local paper. They begin a relationship, and Bad gets close to Jean's 4-year-old son, Buddy.
But Bad's still got to be on the road, and while he's not seeing any other women, the liquor is still there. While Jean and Buddy give him hope for the future, he can't quite get away from all the mistakes of his past.
Crazy Heart is Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges' show from start to finish. His performance is less a culmination than a perfect arc in a circle that started with his Oscar-nominated turn in The Last Picture Show in 1971. The callow, hard-living young man has grown older and harder, wizened if not wiser.
Bridges has always had an easy, natural charm that's occasionally masked the depth of his characterizations. Here, all that charm is on display, and helps counter Bad's deep sense of weariness. Bad Blake also has bitterness in him—not enough to choke him, but enough to stunt him, to hold him back, and Bridges hits just the right notes to keep this character from falling into a study in pathos. As Bad keeps reminding us, he's 57, and he believes himself to be at the end of the line. He comes alive when he's on stage, but even that has to be bolstered with a few shots of whiskey—sometimes, a few shots too many. Bridges also does his own singing here, capturing perfectly the whiskey-and-cigarette grizzle of this guy who's just at the edge of "been there too long."
There's never any doubt that Bad is his own worst enemy, and all the disappointments are his own doing. When he takes the gig opening for Tommy, the much younger guy he gave his start to, we expect the kid to come off as an arrogant diva, rubbing Bad's nose in his success. But it doesn't play out that way at all; in fact, Tommy is gracious and supportive, showing Bad genuine respect and affection. In what amounts to an extended cameo, Colin Farrell plays Tommy as a good guy trying to help out his mentor and friend—only Bad's resentment gets in the way. Farrell and Bridges play off each other very well, and an impromptu duet during a concert—Tommy trying so hard to make it work, Bad quietly fighting him—is a highlight.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is just fine in the slightly underwritten part of Jean. Despite the age difference and Bad's considerable baggage, the relationship makes sense because of the chemistry between the actors. The great Robert Duvall also turns up as one of Bad's long-time cronies; the history they convey in their few scenes together is simple and natural.
Despite the expected bumpy stops on Bad's tentative road to redemption, Crazy Heart is a gentle, easy-going movie. It breaks no new ground, but Scott Cooper, who wrote the script and directed, has good ear for dialogue and an eye for well-composed shots. Barry Markowitz's cinematography offers good representations of dark beer bars and dank hotel rooms along with some beautiful southwest vistas.
Fox sent a screener for review, so I can't really judge the tech, but I will say that overall this looks and especially sounds very good. Surprisingly, given that this film won two Oscars, supplements are awfully skimpy: some deleted scenes and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is a film that lives and dies on its performances, and writer/director Scott Cooper is beyond fortunate to have gotten the cast that he did. The script itself is really a bit creaky; I don't know that there's much left to wring out of this kind of story. While it never really succumbs to clichés, there's an awful lot in Crazy Heart that you've seen before. The middle section, which explores the relationship between Bad and Jean, tends to bog down a bit, and a crisis that impacts the relationship feels strangely inorganic and a bit overblown. Still, the opening scenes are magnetic, and the ending, while undeniably manipulative, is bittersweet and stays with you, thanks in no small part to the Oscar-winning song, "The Weary Kind."
Even if there was a little sentiment attached to Bridges' Oscar win, it's by no means undeserved. He's the heart and soul of Crazy Heart, and he's ably abetted by Gyllenhaal, Farrell, and Duvall. While the script might be a bit underwhelming, the performances soar and make this an easy recommend.
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