Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal
It's a good thing that Crazy Heart stars a beloved actor who had previously spent decades going home empty handed on Oscar night, because I can't imagine that it would have received much notice otherwise. Well, the music might have, but the film itself? The plot is so familiar that it ought to become standardized. Still, what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in heart and a lot of that comes down to this year's very deserving Best Actor winner Jeff Bridges.
Bridges stars as Bad Blake, a down and out country singer/song writer who is down to his last ten bucks and suffering through a demoralizing tour that requires him to play in bowling alleys. His best days are long, long behind him but the fans who've stuck around certainly seem dedicated, smiling and basking in his presence even when he hands things off to the backup band so that he can go outside to throw up. Crazy Heart focuses on some of the excesses inherent in life on the road, but it certainly doesn't glamorize them, as a shot late in the film of Bad lying on a bathroom floor with vomit caking his beard can attest.
While playing in Santa Fe he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a reporter to whom he grants an interview. She wants to talk to him about Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrel), his former protege, now a big star and the very last thing Bad wants to talk about; he wants to talk to her about, well, her and after he lays on a bit of charm, she decides to make him the next in the series of bad decisions that have shaped her life. They fall in love and he gets along well with her son, Buddy, who at four is the same age that Bad's son was the last time he saw him; but Bad's alcoholism undercuts the relationship at every turn. He can't get through a day without drinking, which dooms this new relationship just as it has doomed his career. If he can get a handle on it, though, he might just be able to salvage one of those things.
Bridges is one of those actors who always seems perfectly at ease and natural in his roles. He's not a someone who builds a performance around a Big Actor Moment, but rather builds it out of a series of smaller, subtler moments. One of the best scenes in the film is when Bad makes a phone call to his son, who reacts with understandable distrust and hostility. Bad tries to have a friendly conversation with him, suggesting that they might get to know each other, proceeding with a kind of naive optimism that demonstrates that even though he's been living hard, he's not a hard person. There's a quiet desperation to the way that Bridges plays the scene; a sense of sadness and guilt but also of hope. Bad Blake could have been nothing more than a standard issue washed up hero, but Bridges invests so much in him that he becomes more than that. He's not a "character type" but all too human.
Gyllenhaal is a good match for Bridges in many respects, they both seem to approach characters in a naturalistic way, but one of the problems I had with the film is that I didn't really believe in their characters' relationship. For one thing, it's pretty obvious where the story is going so it's hard to invest yourself in it; for another it kind of makes her look like an idiot. She spends a lot of time talking about how the most important thing for her is that she does what's right for her son, but then she puts herself in this position that can only end badly for both herself and her son. She loves Bad, but she's also a character who is supposed to have been around the block a couple of times and she should know better. I didn't believe in the relationship and because of that it was the least engaging part of the film for me and since it takes up so much of the story, that's a lot of time to be disengaged. I recommend the film on the strength of Bridges' performance but with the caveat that the film itself isn't anything particularly special.