May 13, 2010

Crazy Heart

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart snuck out in the middle of awards season in 2009 when it became clear that Jeff Bridges had done some award-worthy work. It's not so much that he had done his greatest work, however. It must have suddenly dawned on someone that Bridges had been nominated four times over the course of four decades and had never won. In his new film, he plays an alcoholic, which counts as a disability, which goes a long way in winning a Best Actor trophy (Ray Milland and Nicolas Cage both won for doing the same). Likewise, he plays a country singer, which carries a little bit more sadness and dignity than a rock 'n' roll singer, and Robert Duvall won his 1983 Oscar for the same combination in Tender Mercies. (Moreover, Duvall is a producer on Crazy Heart and plays a small role.) They may as well have just handed Bridges the Oscar when he signed on to the movie.

Bridges plays "Bad" Blake, a veteran country singer who once had a hit song and is now languishing in obscurity, playing bowling alleys and dive bars, and getting rip-roaring drunk during his set. To make matters worse, his one time protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, with American accent) has gone on to a highly successful career, selling lots of records and playing huge stadiums. After a show, "Bad" meets a music journalist, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and agrees to an interview. They click with one another, and "Bad" also makes a connection with Jean's 4 year-old son Buddy. "Bad" decides to make something of himself and agrees to be the warm-up act for Tommy Sweet, but can't keep his drinking under control.

Like a good country song, Crazy Heart has an appealing, easygoing vibe. Most of the turns of plot happen quite matter-of-factly and organically, as if natural extensions of the characters. Despite the alcoholism theme, the movie never squeezes the audience too hard, or puts them through the ringer. It's not out to punish or hammer home its message. Director Cooper -- an actor making his feature directorial debut -- keeps incidents such as the lost child and a car crash as low-key as possible. He doesn't play these moments for suspense or for heavy tragedy, and instead plays them for simple pity. It's the final stretch that feels a bit thin and easy, however. In playing the "hitting rock bottom" moments so softly, "Bad's" redemption doesn't quite feel fully earned.

But Bridges is the real selling point here. His wonderfully layered performance is full of joy and pain and weariness, all mixed up in a gruff package. Gyllenhaal matches him, and manages to sell the unlikely attraction between these two sad, lost souls, and she also earned an Oscar nomination. Additionally, Bridges, Farrell and Duvall (who appears as an old bartender pal of "Bad's"), can be heard doing their own singing. Bridges and Farrell share a very nice duet on a song called "Fallin' & Flyin'." Aside from Bridges' Best Actor Oscar, the film won a second one for the song "The Weary Kind," written by T-Bone Burnett.

DVD extras include about a half-hour of deleted scenes, and a trailer. There's also a very quick interview with the three stars, asking them "what brought them to the movie" (a rookie question that every interviewer asks and every star is tired of answering).

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Posted by cphillips at May 13, 2010 4:54 PM
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