Friday, November 19, 2010

CRAZY HEART (2009): And Country Music

Country music singers like to drink.  That’s the premise we come away with from watching Crazy Heart, and it’s probably a truism in a great many circumstances.  For example, Hank Williams probably could have lived past thirty if he had ever made an effort to sober up.  The script of Crazy Heart, written by the director, Scott Cooper and based on a novel by Thomas Cobb, resembles one of those classic country-western songs with a somewhat upbeat ending. 

Crazy Heart features Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a legendary country singer on the verge of making a comeback.  He has a brief love affair with Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a reporter, single mother and much younger woman.  Jean has a very young son named Buddy (Jack Nation), who adores the country singer.  Bad Blake also has a bar owning and now sober friend named Wayne (Robert Duvall – who also helped produce the film) that counsels Bad Blake and eventually convinces him to sober up for good.  The plotline is not complicated.  Bad Blake and Jean probably love each other, but she learns that she cannot trust him to take care of Buddy while he’s drinking.  Bad Blake’s eventual success at sobering up comes too late to save his relationship with Jean.  Bad Blake nevertheless records another hit record and this again allows him to tour the country.  After a year of success, he once again meets Jean who is now wearing an engagement ring she received from another man.  Though Bad Blake recognizes that he never again will be romantically attached to Jean, he does agree to grant her his first exclusive interview as the once again popular country singer.

Crazy Heart is supposed to contain the identical storyline as Tender Mercies, a film featuring Robert Duvall as the country singer.  In truth, Crazy Heart is all about the performance of Jeff Bridges and practically no one else.   Maggie Gyllenhaal is too young for the part.  Robert Duvall’s role is too small to have any significant impact upon the film.  The photography plays a large part in the film in that the panoramic shots illustrate the wide-open country that Bad Blake travelled through while touring out west.  The sound track contains songs from Waylon Jennings and Buck Owens, and a number of original songs sung by Jeff Bridges.  Most importantly, the screenplay is tightly written as evidenced by the fact that the film is only 112 minutes long.  Thankfully, the storyline stays away from reuniting Bad Blake with Jean or with his long lost son from a previous marriage (whose voice we only hear on the telephone).  This prevents the film from becoming sentimental.  Likewise, the realistic drinking scenes portrayed in the film never make the movie feel cynical.  Throughout, we are always convinced that Bad Blake is a decent man that can eventually overcome his own shortcomings.

Jeff Bridges has starred in a number of non-commercial movies including some great performances early in his career in The Last Picture Show, The Iceman Cometh, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.  Unfortunately, his acting has not stood out when he’s appeared in blockbusters such as Seabiscuit or Iron ManCrazy Heart will never be one of those blockbusters, and this may tell us why this is the best film Bridges has appeared in during the last ten years.  He is a better actor than either his father or his brother, but the movie industry only lately acknowledges this fact.  Probably his career mirrors the one of Bad Blake.  Jeff Bridges won a legitimate Oscar (if there is such a thing) for this role.

May 24, 2010
© Robert S. Miller, 2010

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