Sentimental and Noteworthy
When a character in a movie is named “Bad,” that’s a big tip off he’s a person with conflicts. In Crazy Heart, Bad Blake is a broken down, has-been country singer. He’s also broke and an alcoholic. Fortunately, Jeff Bridges plays this main character, and he helps us discover that Bad isn’t quite so appalling after all.
The 57-year-old Bad now lives out his career in dumpy beer joints and bowling alley bars. People roll their eyes when the disheveled entertainer takes the stage with a guitar in one hand and a drink in the other. Bad notices but he’s too far gone himself – drowning in his own malfunction, including many failed marriages that weigh heavy on his mind.
One night at another seedy bar, Bad is approached by a journalist who wants to interview him. Bad seems amused, but he also sees something in Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that ignites a spark of humanity again. He learns that Jean is the single mother of a small boy who has physical problems, so she too is dealing with a feeling of inadequacy.
The interview goes well, and for a moment Bad and Jean meet on even ground – just two lonely people with no baggage. Jean, who now lives inside her do-not-get-involved armor, never imagined she would fall for a sweaty, unshaven drunk so far removed from life he pees in a bottle in his hardly-running truck. But she’s hungry to place her head on another’s shoulder and to feel a genuine kiss from a man who might be interested in her. Bad and Jean share several nights together before Bad must take off to another monotonous gig.
Writer/director Scott Cooper has done a good job bringing Crazy Heart (adapted from Thomas Cobb’s novel) to the screen and keeping the clutter constantly swept to the side. However, the story has been seen too many times before. What escalates the film above its clones is Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-worthy performance. We’ve watched Bridges in a role like this before. He played a lost musician with personal challenges in The Fabulous Baker Boys. In Crazy Heart, Bad goes from accepting his faults and living with them to finding a glimmer of hope. He comes to believe that someone might actually care about him again. Bridges' portrayal of Bad is like a floating candle in a jar of gasoline here -- always ready to ignite. Through Jean, Bad learns to hang on with the hope of glowing again.
Bridges agreed to do the film immediately after reading the script. “There were so many wonderful elements to this one,” he said. “Music, for one…I also loved Scott’s script. We got along instantaneously and he’s very talented. He knows country music backwards and forwards and his enthusiasm is contagious. Then there’s Bad Blake, who is such a human guy. He’s like all of us, with lots of positive qualities and plenty more faults.”
Gyllenhaal is also exceptional as Jean. Her character has been dealt a bad hand and tries to deal with it as best she can. She shields herself from relationships, wanting no more broken hearts -- and she uses protecting her son as the excuse. When she meets Bad, she’s instantly attracted. But they’re both like molded muffins -- imperfect on the outside, yet hiding quality and sweetness on the inside. Can they overcome their pasts to find recovery and a new life with each other?
Colin Farrell fans might be surprised to watch him play Tommy Sweet, Bad’s former protégé, in this film. Tommy likes the songs Bad used to write for him and encourages his mentor to write more of them. Farrell never appears out of step with his character, a genuine Bad supporter. Robert Duvall, Oscar-winner for his performance as a country singer in Tender Mercies, portrays a bartender who takes up Bad’s cause and leads him into rehab.
Among a rambunctious crowd of year-end studio releases, Crazy Heart is a sentimental and noteworthy find.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated “R” for language and brief sexuality.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.