The Fabulous Jeff Bridges

         
 

07 June 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Jeff Bridges won exclamatory praise for his work as Marshal Rooster Cogburn in True Grit (DVD scheduled for June 7th) and it is a veritable fit in the hallmark of his career. I underrated it in my first review, complaining at the time that it dawdles. My original three-star review to me now seems unreasonable. Any film that had me talking with others about it for a lengthy amount of time, which happened persistently, following its release certainly deserves to be rated higher. Especially when conversation after conversation came up of just how incomparable Bridges is in the role of Rooster. What was obvious from the beginning was Bridges’ larger than life and idiosyncratic lawman, a cantankerous and eccentric coot with a croaky tobacco voice and a lumbering walk that emulated a whipped horse. A performance that great should elevate any film towards four-star merit.

Any actor with thirty years of good work will become a legend, and Bridges has some forty years under his belt. Three immediate thoughts should come to mind when Bridges’ name (in addition to Rooster) is brought up: Bridges as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart” (2009) and the Best Actor Oscar that came with it; Jeff Lebowski in a bathrobe with a White Russian in hand in “The Big Lebowski;” and if your movie history goes back far enough, the callous, fresh-faced and misdirected Duane Jackson in the black & white “The Last Picture Show” (1971). His girlfriend in “Picture Show” is played by Cybill Shepherd who you can glimpse naked, but Bridges has ungainly problems unbuttoning her top in their first bedroom encounter.

Those are immediate thoughts, especially amongst movie fans and critics at large. But there are nearly two dozen others that any film fanatic should become familiar with. I could go on about his work in “Fat City” (1972), “Starman” (1984), “Jagged Edge” (1985), “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” (1988), “The Fisher King” (1991), “Fearless” (1993), “Seabiscuit” (2003) or “The Door in the Floor” (2004) – eventually, for real, I will review all of them in depth. But there is one other that I feel is far more essential. One that should be in the top five ranks of his career best.

“The Fabulous Baker Boys” (1989) is an absolutely essential film for the thoroughbred acting legend. Despite the black tuxes on the DVD jacket cover, do not confuse it for a gangster flick. This slice of life music-themed drama has been known more for Michelle Pfeiffer singing “Makin’ Whoopee” while slinking on top of a piano. Jeff Bridges, whose behavior is moody but smoldering anytime and all the time, is jazz pianist Jack Baker. Beau Bridges is the anal retentive older bro Frank Baker who manages the trio act. This mature drama especially for people who understand the music gig lifestyle, working in the after dark hours and roaming city to city.  

“Baker Boys” is sexy in a plentitude of ways that have less to do with nudity but in ways that have to do with suggestion of the mind and the use of musical talent as foreplay. Getting “involved” is hot but it’s also a two-way riddle replete of games and attachment phobia. Bridges’ great performance isn’t one that showboats though – he doesn’t shout out to get our attention, he has you leaning in, inducing you to read his emotions in-between the wrinkles. He’s a guy that keeps his brainier qualities hidden so he can excusably mess around with uneducated women. Pfeiffer is a complicated sex kitten mix – tawdry but not dumb. The gifted but near-forgotten writer-director Steve Kloves keeps his film pitched at constant melancholy but with a swoony beat, and has a surprisingly enticing real people in a real world aura.

I will make a surprise comparison that you couldn’t possibly have foreseen coming. Jeff Bridges’ performance is very much like Jeremy Renner’s performance as Staff Sergeant William James in “The Hurt Locker.” You got it, one’s a melancholy music drama from the 80’s, and the other is an Iraq-set war film surrounding a bomb-disposal team. Well, the films are way, way different. Bridges and Renner though are alike.

Both are characters shielded by thick layers, both have impenetrable facades that hide their core personalities. You don’t know who either character really is for the first hour. You, as a viewer, have to go through deconstructing processes to chip away at their layers, waiting for the key unlocking moment that reveals a momentary vulnerability. The one that lets you finally gets you inside to what they’re thinking. These are not explosive performances, they are implosive ones. For most of these two films, Bridges and Renner conduct themselves in their own self-contained ways, rarely minding the people around them. Both heat up slowly before they blow their lids off. The only difference is that one character is more self-forgiving then the other. To me, this kind of character is more interesting than the ones that tell you everything about them in the opening five minutes.

****        ****        ****        ****        ****

I mentioned quite a few essential picks in this article. All I ask though is that you ignore “Tideland” and “The Amateurs (both from 2005). Those relative embarrassments will hardly put a dent in the reputable legacy of Jeff Bridges. But really, don’t waste your time on such things if you need to catch up on the necessities. Besides “Baker Boys,” there are at least ten hardcore recommendations from me here, actually you have probably found more.

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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