Like legendary film critic Pauline Kael, I also think Jeff Bridges is one of the country’s finest actors. No other film actor projects the relentless, seamless, manly honesty that he does. I’d happily pay to watch Jeff Bridges read the phone book. Alas, it’s going to be a while before I sit through Crazy Heart a second time.
There’s a lot right about Crazy Heart, whch is basically a country song elongated into a movie. It’s a terrific debut for filmmaker Scott Cooper who wrote and directed—an old-fashioned story (based on a 1987 novel by Thomas Cobb) told in a solid, old- fashioned way with evocative photography and a deeply felt love of country music and the different kinds of American countrysides that give it life. If you like country music, the songs and the sound track are positively exhilarating, thanks to the combined efforts of several music legends, including T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, who died shortly after the movie was finished and whose life story added a few touches.
Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed up, unwashed, out of shape, alcoholic former country legend who, like all these kinds of aging male characters in movies, is hoping for a come back—and may or may not find redemption in the arms of a much younger woman. It’s a good story – if I hadn’t already seen it many times before in other films (Tender Mercies, Payback) and real life. Frankly, I am sick of stories about self-absorbed old guys who never apologize for the detritus they leave behind them, but somehow get bestowed the Good Life. A timeless guy fantasy I guess. Just once I would love to see an American film about an old boozy woman who gets a young hunk to save her. (If you want to see a terrific story about a beautiful old woman and her much younger lover, see last year’s overlooked gem, Cheri, starring Michelle Pfeiffer.)
Maggie Gyllenhaal is Jean Craddock, the young single mother who risks allowing Bad Blake into her life. I am well aware of the magic that any kind of musician has on women of all ages, been there/done that I am happy/sorry to say. But come on, the character of Ms. Craddock is a really smart and good-looking gal who could have gotten any man her own age to happily sleep with her. But for the purposes of this story, she instantaneously chooses Bad Blake, an alcoholic who is shampoo-challenged. We all do stupid things in life (how else would we get film stories?), but any identification I might have had with Ms. Craddock’s character flew out the window when she allowed Blake, still drinking, to take care of her young son. She deserved all the angst she suffered from that mistake. Her movie redemption came, finally, when she decided to give up romance for her she-bear instincts.
But worse than all those considerations of true life realism is the movie fact that Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal had no chemistry whatsoever. How any actress could not have chemistry with Jeff Bridges—even with all my complaints about his film character–is totally beyond me. I mean, Jeff Bridges has “It,” no matter what part he plays. Maggie, my dear, what was wrong with you?
The story is filled with touching cameos and small bit parts. Robert Duvall, as usual, is memorable as Bad Blake’s old friend and fishing buddy, but he’s played this part so many times lately that as good as he is, the performance is a yawn. Colin Farrell – ah, he’s a different story. He plays a country singer who has a love/hate relationship with Bad Blake and the short duet they sing in one scene is worth the price of admission. If I were a Hollywood smarty pants I would have director Cooper make a follow up film about Bad Blake so we could bring back Bridges and Farrell to watch them joust and spar and sing for a whole two hours.
Film fans should probably see Crazy Heart because Bridges is the hands-on favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar this year. Even though I think the award should go to Colin Firth for A Single Man. Maggie Gyllenhaal also is nominated, for Best Supporting Actress, but Mo’Nique is probably going to get that award for Precious. The film is also nominated for Best Original Song, “The Weary Heart,” by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett.