Crazy Heart Reviewby Jerry Saravia (faustus_08520 AT yahoo DOT com)
August 12th, 2011
CRAZY HEART (2009)
Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
RATING: Four stars (A-)
At its best when I listen to it, country music is often about heartbreak. I am no fan of the music (I am partial to Johnny Cash, who wasn't all country) but after watching and listening to "Crazy Heart," I am a bigger fan of the inspirations, which include Merle Haggard, and of the unsung actor Jeff Bridges. Bridges is in every single scene and he brings heartbreak to his performance in all its country glory.
Bridges is the alcoholic, 57-year-old Otis "Bad" Blake, a country singer who reluctantly plays at bowling alleys and bars throughout New Mexico. He is drunk offstage and onstage. In a scene that could have been far more cringe-worthy, he is almost ready to sing until he splits from the stage, vomits outside, and then comes back just as the song is finished by his pick-up band. The audience still applauds because Bad Blake has a charisma that offsets any flaws. That scene is at the heart of "Crazy Heart" because nobody in this film, aside from a doctor at a Santa Fe hospital, tells Blake to stop drinking altogether - just dial it down a few notches. The screenplay dodges and spares us the cliches that normally accompany a has-been singer - this is not the excessively inebriated singer you might have seen in "The Rose," which starred the brilliant Bette Midler. Bad Blake is a middle-of-the-road alcoholic who can stop drinking but wishes not to. He smokes and drinks but the drinking keeps his mind from writing down new lyrics which he improvises on the fly.
Blake meets a young journalist, Jean (ever the effervescent actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal), who wants to write an article about him. They develop a relationship but she knows where to draw the line in the sand when it comes to fathering her four-year-old son, Buddy (Jack Nation). Jean knows instinctively what Blake is all about and there are moments where it is clear that she doesn't know what sort of future he might have with her.
"Crazy Heart" has a few surprises in store for the viewer who has seen this sort of tale before. The cliches are excised and the screenplay wisely chooses to focus on Blake's own forging ahead with his career, despite his drinking and truck accident. Bad Blake won't settle for any old gig - he nearly turns down an arena of 14,000 people in attendance where a supposed rival, a young hotshot country singer named Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is performing. "Crazy Heart" settles for something redemptive in Bad Blake towards its conclusion. I am not always a fan of a redemption in a character, particularly a drunk, but I realized that Jeff Bridges sells the character so well that a change of heart seems true and honest (especially in the similar drunk Bridges played in "The Fisher King"). And let us say that not everything that occurs is as expected.
Robert Duvall (co-producer of the film and star of the similar film, "Tender Mercies") is always a welcome presence in any film as a former alcoholic who tends bar and keeps an eye on Blake. Colin Farrell, an actor I do not always care for, also brings authenticity to his role - it is not played as an egotistical new talent who can outsell Blake's own records sales but as someone who admires Blake. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a genuine treasure playing a woman who holds her own fort. She could've played the character as shrill or even conniving - she genuinely cares for Blake but sees his shortcomings.
It is an inescapable fact that Jeff Bridges somehow fits his persona into his characters invisibly, thus we never catch him acting. His portrayal of the alcoholic Bad Blake (which he deservedly won the Oscar for) is stunning to watch because he is subtle and underplays beautifully, just as Jeff Bridges always has. "Crazy Heart" is near- great (I would have preferred more time with Duvall's character myself) but it is Jeff Bridges who burns a hole through your heart.
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