Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A movie review: Crazy Heart (2009)

Crazy Heart (2009)
Director - Scott Cooper
112 Min; R
Bad Blake - Jeff Bridges
Jean Craddock - Maggie Gyllenhaal

Jeff Bridges has a career that spans many decades and includes about 70 credited films, so there is quite a bit of room to like some of his movies and loathe others. Thankfully his new film Crazy Heart is one to love. As a character actor in many of his roles Bridges has an ease that really pulls us in and makes us forget he is playing a part – anybody who has seen The Big Lebowski knows exactly what I am talking about. It is with this seemingly effortless way that he becomes Bad Blake, a country music star who has seen better days.

Blake used to be the main attraction playing in front of large crowds, but now he is a 57 year old alcoholic, alone and in failing health, driving from small town bar to small town bowling alley to play gigs in order to make a little money, of which he has none. McClure’s whiskey is his drink of choice and in one great scene he lovingly caresses a bottle in a store, then puts it back and picks up a much cheaper version of the drink and we realize he can’t even afford to buy it. His life is in shambles, but he can still bring it when it’s time to go on stage, or at least until he has to vomit.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is a local reporter who interviews Blake for a piece in the small town newspaper, something Blake hasn’t done in over 3 years. She’s young, pretty and beaten down by life in many ways, including a string of bad men and bad choices which have left her with a young son to raise on her own. A mutual attraction between the two takes place in an unlikely way, and this story line helps tie together the themes of tragedy and redemption which are prevalent throughout the film.

A string of wonderful supporting roles by various actors really bring this film together, including a stint by Robert Duvall as manager of Blake’s Texas hometown bar and a surprisingly well done portrayal of Tommy Sweet by Colin Farrell, in a small but vitally important role. Bad Blake taught Tommy Sweet everything he knows about country music, and the two spent many years working and touring together. Circumstances happened and now it is Tommy at the top of the world and Blake looking in from the outside. Their relationship in the film is done very well and is very believable.

This is a film that stands firmly on its own feet as one of the best of the year, yet nobody can look past the obvious mirroring of the great film The Wrestler, which saw a down and out Mickey Rourke portray an aging and health-weary wrestler trying to get back to the top of his profession. The similarities are glaring, but that just means to me that there are now two great films to see that cover similar subject matter, and if forced to give my opinion on the two I prefer the Wrestler for its gritty realism, but I loved and enjoy Crazy Heart for the long shots of beautiful country, the wonderful soundtrack of which Bridges himself contributes, and the optimistic feel that we all know is never going to pan out for Blake.

***** out of 5

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