The road, one must assume, has got to be liberating for a musician. But when you’re 57 and travelling on the road, and alone… well it has got to be lonely and dissipating. Jeff Bridges is Bad Blake, a one-time popular country singer and boozer in Crazy Heart. He is more ashamed about his real given name than he is about his drinking. He drinks all hours before his performances, his performances sometimes taking place at a bowling alley in the southwest. If he can get away with it, he will have a drink during his performance. This is the kind of movie that was designed to get Jeff Bridges a Best Actor Oscar and so it did.
This movie reminds us of Bridges’ considerable talent and range. He takes the stage as comfortably as Jeff Lebowski moseyed along swiping other peoples’ carpets. He loves the microphone, he just happens to love drinking better. But he doesn’t come off stupefying drunk everyday, so his addiction is initially unknown to him. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Oscar nominated), as Jean, a journalist who falls for his grizzled poet ways. Jean interviews Blake for the papers, they hit it off, and then soon enough Blake is babysitting her kid and staying over.
Many of the other actors are good (nods to Robert Duvall and Paul Herman) but the surprise is Colin Farrell. His character Tommy Sweet was an understudy, an opener, for Bad Blake years ago. Now Tommy is the superstar, perhaps because his mug looks good on record albums. Tommy makes attempts to cut Blake a break, but Blake is too proud to accept his graciousness but nevertheless takes on an opening act in Arizona which can re-jump his career.
Thanks to the persistence of Tommy Sweet, the cantankerous Blake gets a chance to write songs again as another rebound. As you can guess, Blake gets a multitude of second chances but there are obstacles, a crisis or two that comes that are all caused, and self-inflicted, by Blake himself.
“Crazy Heart” is a movie where we observe a character slowly coveting a real life again that had been non-existent for years, and then slowly letting it slip out from under him. What good is life if you don’t have someone to share it with? That comes to Bad Blake at age 57. Gyllenhaal is always effective as the sensual girl who gives bad guys a second chance, she might be the only actress alive who can act with her cheekbones alone. But if you use the “honeymoon is over” metaphor, then you see a young woman asking credible questions on whether Blake is really right for her. Watching her lose patience is a dramatic inevitability.
Somehow, you want more intimate exchanges between them in the second half. In a pivotal scene that raises Jean’s eyebrows, Blake on his bad leg scuttles through a shopping mall looking for a lost little boy. The culmination of this incident is realistically handled, an episode without a false note.
The cutting could have been more spiky, and you certainly wish the movie rolled along with more tact – the directing by Scott Cooper is a little weak in third act as it goes slack and yet takes its shortcuts to reach its denouement. Maybe some re-writing was needed. With all that said, you don’t have to be a fan of country music to find the crossover appeal of “Crazy Heart,” a film about mature relationships and professional exhaustion on the road.
The other movie out at the same time, “Up in the Air,” features George Clooney as a spry, tireless traveler. Bridges is tired and exhausted man, and uninterested in the news when the doctor said he has to change his eating and drinking habits. This is indeed a very full-bodied and uncompromised character portrait done by a tremendous actor.
112 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / MOODY CHARACTER STUDY / FALL MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Five Easy Pieces” (1970); “Cutter’s Way” (1981); “Tender Mercies” (1983); “American Heart” (1992).