Crazy Heart Reviews
On a downward spiral is deteriorating, aging former country star Bad Blake (Bridges). During a low rent desperate road trip playing in bowling alleys and dives, Bad finds a much younger single mother journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and they fall in love. Though this happens when Bad's in a drunken stupor, a game changing screw up puts the love of his life in peril. Bad knows he can't keep this relationship going unless he gets sober, with the help of friends like his buddy Robert Duvall and his younger protege Tommy Sweet, who is now a huge star, surprisingly sung and nicely embodied by Colin Farrell.
What amazed me is the palpable chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Bridges which totally won me over. It's hard enough to have good chemistry when the actors are the same age, let alone thirty years apart. Here, I bought it hook line and sinker and more importantly, I cared! It's a tribute to both actors that their love happens in such a quiet, gradual and truthful way.
Young and highly promising writer/director Scott Cooper has written and directed a note perfect chamber film. It may try the patience of some viewers, because the story avoids melodramatic histrionics and big over the top emotions, unfolding very gently. It's very similar to Duvall's Tender Mercies in tone and milieu, and in theme, it's very close to Daren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, though it's more conventional and mainstream than that Mickey Rorke vehicle.
The songs by T Bone Burnett are uniformly excellent, mostly in the vein of traditional country with slightly Freudian lyrics with subject matter that subtly touches on the themes of the film. This has my strongest recommendation, but consider yourself forewarned if you hate country music or were expecting big histrionics, gun play and chase scenes.
However, what's good here is that it's a basic story of reaching the end of the road and finding a way to carry on. Colin Farrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal, both of whom I generally don't enjoy, were very good in their roles, even though Bridges (and Robert Duvall) are in a league of their own. Good movie, a real crowd pleaser; if I could forget about the book I'd have liked it even more.
The story here is not original (in fact it could be argued that many of the characters, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal's, could have been ripped right out of a country song), but the performance of Jeff Bridges is worth the price of admission (and deserving of his oscar).
Bridges plays Bad Blake a famous country singer whose star has dimmed. He is trapped in his own persona, living the hard drinkin', four time divorced hell raiser and suffering the consequences; hating not only himself, but everything around him for the situation he finds himself in. He drinks like a fish to numb the realization that he is the one responsible for his sad state of affairs - ageing, alone, trying to keep his fame flame lit by playing dives and bowling alley bars.
Maggie Gylleinhaal also does a nice turn as the woman who keeps falling for the wrong man (see, there's that country song rearing it's ugly head). It isn't her fault that my main objection to the film has to do with her character. I feel that the relationship developed between Maggie and Bridges seemed to spring up out of nowhere - one moment they are simply interacting (she interviews him for a newspaper), and the next, she's doing stuff for the love of him that no sane woman would do (except for those portrayed in a country song - damn, I said it again!). I suppose that since he cooked biscuits for she and her son, that of course means that she's fallen for him.
Anywho, the real star of the film (besides Bridges wonderful embodiment) is the music. Not a big fan of country, but the songs here (mostly written by the star of the moment, T-Bone Burnett) are solid and exceedingly well crafted. If the film were simply an expose about the music business, it would work pretty well (with a couple of minor missteps - 50 concerts in 60 days for a major star simply isn't realistic, as it usually takes a couple of days just to set up a venue).
There are also some nicely written moments, as when Maggie gets pissed because Bridges has just written a terrific song while convalescing in her bed. The issue being that she will remember the moment forever, and she is sure that he'll forget where and why he wrote it in a matter of months. There is another scene in which she berates Bridges as he has pulled another great tune out of the ether, complaining that he has no idea of how blessed he is and that most people would sell their souls to be able to write something that good. Of course, as Bridges stated earlier when they were doing the interview, the songs, unfortunately, come from experience. Perhaps Bad Blake has already sold his soul?
Ultimately, like a good country song (there I go again), there is redemption and a bittersweet ending, but the overall taste here is satisfying, but not overwhelming. My mind keeps drawing parallels to the Mickey Rourke vehicle The Wrestler. They are very much of a kind, though I felt the Rourke film a bit more convincing, in spite of a quirky, yet compelling in its own way cameo by Robert Duvall.
Yet regardless of the conventional nature of the narrative it is the sensational Oscar nominated performance by Jeff Bridges that truly sparks this film. The amount of detail in this character, from his bushy look to his funny quips and mannerisms, is indicative of the great efforts that Cooper spent thoroughly writing such an interesting and fun persona. One of the first sights we see of Bad is when he is exiting his beaten up old truck with his belt undone and then pouring his own urine from a container on the ground. Similarly, as he sits in just his towel, eating from a Styrofoam container, he announces that he is having dinner when Jean accidentally walks in on him. These crude and funny moments are contrasted with his talents as a showman and a musician, which despite his complacency, have really never left him. When rehearsing he says that he will continue practicing throughout the entire concert unless the sound is fixed, revealing his experience with the industry and its occasionally dodgy practices. His fatal flaw remains his lack of drive though, which has prevented him for so long to do anything with his talents. When he is asked to make a new record he asks his manager what's wrong with his old stuff. Lastly, there is also the tenderness and the vulnerable side, which suggests that underneath his apparent emptiness there is still a man who cares and this is reflected most poignantly with his fondness for Buddy, showing him the love and attention that was absent from his relationship with his own son. Bridges understands this character thoroughly and he physically and emotionally embodies the role, humanising all of Bad's strengths and weaknesses so convincingly. His ability to perform his own singing in the film is just another asset his terrific performance provides for Crazy Heart.
Although there has been great discussion for Bridge's performance, Gyllenhaal is surprisingly affecting in the film too and was justly rewarded with a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film. She is terrific with her fleeting eyes suggesting her vulnerability and weakness for men. The emotion and fury she shows towards the end of the film is actually quite powerful. How much her son really means to her is also one of the most convincing aspects of her performance, with Buddy being the one last reliable male in Jean's life. It is a shame given the quality of both performances then that the relationship between Bad and Jean is slightly less plausible. Their attraction is not only rapid but it comes at a time when Jean insists that she is not making the same mistakes anymore. Perhaps this is just a reflection of her helplessness and poor judgement in men but it could have been made slightly clearer. Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell have smaller roles and they are both fine actors too, the latter a surprisingly good singer. Crazy Heart's soundtrack was arranged by the musician T. Bone Burnett, who has worked on a number of other films such as Walk the Line and Across the Universe and it is impressive as well. Two of the very best songs are 'Hold on You' and the touching ballad 'The Weary Kind', which is played over the end credits.
Crazy Heart is not a particularly original or fresh film, but it is certainly one that is highly enjoyable and fun to watch because of the multilayered performance by Bridges that really elevates the film. The attention to detail in the writing of his character is highly impressive, as is his ability to convince us of this very talented has- been. Yet Gyllenhaal is also particularly moving, eventually bringing a great deal of emotion into a more ordinary character. She provides the film with the dramatic punch that it needs towards the end. It is these two performances, along with the music, which makes the formulaic narrative here memorable once more.
The music was a little excessive in the first half of the movie, which is why I think it took me a while to warm to it. I am not a fan of the genre, and it was distracting, and seemed to be slightly louder in the music bits - I had to keep turning the volume up to hear what they were saying and then turn it down again in a hurry when the music came blasting on (which seemed often). Despite this, however, I did enjoy this film, especially towards the last half as it seemed more character based, and found it well worth the watch.