Movie Review – Crazy Heart (2009)
by HELEN GEIB
Early in Crazy Heart, faded country music star Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is asked by neophyte reporter Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), destined to be the next in a long line of women loved and lost, to name today’s “real” country artists. Bad’s real country credentials are never in doubt: he is the embodiment of the popular culture image of Authentic Country Singer-Songwriter, an alchemical combination of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Steve Earle. Age, the cruel effects of decades of hard-living, and changing popular taste have reduced him to playing bars in small towns in the Southwest, backed by pickup bands and living in old highway motels as run-down as he is.
Crazy Heart is extraordinarily successful in creating the illusion that we are joining a life in progress. Bridges’ performance is flawless. He inhabits the character completely; it is as if we are watching the real Bad Blake caught on hidden cameras. It is a performance of consummate skill that never feels like a performance.
Bridges’ life-in-progress characterization defines the film: Bad is the focus of every scene (nearly of every shot) and his character determines the story. The production design- costumes, on-location filming, naturalistic lighting, and so on- reinforces the film’s lived-in quality. Writer-director Scott Cooper’s script further develops it through Bad’s longstanding, sometimes uneasy, but ultimately enduring friendships with his agent, the owner (Robert Duvall) of the bar where Bad plays when he’s home in Houston, and the former protege who graduated to superstardom (Colin Farrell, riveting in his few scenes).
In contrast to his essentially stable male friendships, Bad’s tumultuous romance with Jean is contained within the film. Jean as a character is not particularly interesting; we don’t learn very much about her and don’t see her change. Moreover, there is no suspense about whether the love affair will last: it is obvious from the first that the difference in their ages, situations, and temperaments is too great. The suspense, and the real significance of the storyline, lies in whether the affair’s end will be the catalyst for change, or whether it will conform to the pattern of his life (there have been four failed marriages and an unknown number of Jeans). Bluntly put, whether this time Bad will get sober.
For all that Bad shows his age and the drink when he’s offstage, he’s still got it when he’s onstage, he still loves the music, and he’s a professional. (“Bad Blake has never missed a performance.”- Not even drunk and booked into a bowling alley in Nowheresville.) The movie shows him at work frequently, performing and writing new songs. Bridges does his own singing and his voice is perfect for the part. It’s good, but not too good; it’s like Merle Haggard’s after four decades of heavy smoking. Bad’s repertoire is a collection of fine country music songs written for the film by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton. A few of them are surely destined to be covered by real-world country music stars.
Bridges was nominated for the best actor Oscar for Crazy Heart. He faces stiff competition from George Clooney for Up in the Air, Colin Firth for A Single Man, Morgan Freeman for Invictus, and Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker.