Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges is one of those late-December releases that you’ll hopefully catch up with, especially to see Bridges in an Oscar-worthy performance surrounded by a terrific supporting cast. Not that you haven’t seen variations on this plot before: the washed-up, broken-down (fill in the blank with either athlete or performer) meets a lovely young lady (as in young enough to be his daughter), while facing a potentially life-threatening condition (usually drugs or alcohol infused) on the road to possible redemption (Wait a minute–am I reviewing The Wrestler?). However, it’s rarely been done so well.
The main credit goes to Bridges as Bad Blake, a still-famous country singer on the skids, (have I mentioned that I don’t like country music and I still love this movie?) reduced to going on the road playing bowling alley lounges and the like. In his southwestern travels, he meets a lovely reporter (a radiant Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her young son, while a chance to get back into the big time materializes through his former protégé (a very likable Colin Farrell) who now headlines in the big arenas.
While you may figure out where the movie is going, there is no denying the tremendous humanity and generosity in Bridges’ performance. From the beginning, he gets every detail of Bad Blake right, from the slightly embarrassed reaction to being recognized in a liquor store to bartering for a free bottle in exchange for dedicating a song to the owner’s wife.You can see why the big time has passed him by (along with his rueful acceptance of it), but you can also see why people still fondly remember him and make allowances for him. You can also feel his pride in making every gig—even if it allows for some wriggle room like taking the time to run out and vomit during a performance (in a very amusing scene).
Cooper’s screenplay (from Thomas Cobb’s novel) is nicely developed, allowing for any number of beautifully played moments, from Bridges’ appreciation of a local keyboard player’s talent, to the tender scenes between Bridges and Gyllenhaal, in which the actors almost have a magical rapport. When the inevitable crisis scenes come, they are handled with unusual subtlety in both the writing and playing. And while I ‘m not the biggest Colin Farrell fan, he holds his own with Bridges; in their scenes together you can feel the mix of tension and warmth between the characters, both offstage and on. Robert Duvall also contributes a relaxed, warmhearted performance as Bridges’ best friend (and even gets to sing a little).
Some other things I should mention: the original songs by Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett (and their performances by Bridges and Farrell) are both tuneful and touching, and there is a final scene that is so right…and so beautifully played—just thinking about it now makes me tingle. If you’ve been hankering (note the western lingo) for a gentle film filled with music, humor, tenderness and graceful performances, then mosey on down to your local theater and catch Crazy Heart. You’ll be happy you did.