Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Heart Is A Lonely Drinker: Crazy Heart Review (Review #60)


CRAZY HEART

You know what kind of person Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is just by his nom de guerre. He's a hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-loving man. Blake is a country music legend, and by that I mean that few people remember him. To misquote Norma Desmond, "He is big. It's the venues that got small". In short, he's a screw-up, and he knows he's a screw-up. Crazy Heart is his journey, if not to redemption, at least acceptance of his flaws and peace with where his decisions have led him to.

Blake, who is introduced on stage as "The Wrangler of Love", is an old-style country musician. He doesn't like the pop-country style that now dominates Nashville, and he especially doesn't like Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrel), a former member of his backup band and protégé who has hit the big time while Blake has fallen off the map. This is one of two topics (the other being his real name) that he won't discuss in an interview with an up-and-coming journalist, Jean Craddick (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother with a son, Buddy (Jack Nation). Soon, a relationship between them begins, while coincidentally an opportunity for a revival of his career comes via courtesy of Tommy. Blake swallows his pride (and some whiskey) and goes for both. Blake eventually starts, after an accident, to try to do right by everyone, but his drinking and his general lack of health do him in. The shocks he gets forces him to realize how deep he's fallen and he does pull himself together. While he's still Bad, he also knows who he really is.

Bridges creates a man who is fully aware of his flaws, but no longer cares. His Bad Blake knows he is good when it comes to music, bad when it comes to anything else. Blake goes through the motions, angry that the man he helped is now drawing the big crowds. It's bad enough that HE has to open for Tommy Sweet, but when he sees the billing, it's downright demeaning. It isn't flat jealousy, it's also hurt that Sweet is taking the music he loves (and in some cases, wrote) and taking the country out of it.

While in many ways this is a clichéd scenario, director/writer Scott Cooper (adapting Thomas Cobb's novel) creates someone for whom we root for. We want Blake to pull himself together because we know he keeps trying again and again. Jeff Bridges' performance is pitch-perfect (no pun intended). He makes his character unapologetic for who he is or how he's come to the place he is at, which makes his evolution to realizing he is danger of repeating the mistakes with Jean that he did with others in his past all the more real. For example, there's when Blake attempts to reconnect with his son whom he hasn't dealt with for close to a quarter-century. It's only Bridges who is seen, and he carries that scene brilliantly, mixing sorrow, hurt, regret, and pain with amazing control.


Everyone else around Bridges plays equally well to his brilliant performance. Though it is stretching the imagination that someone Maggie Gyllenhaal's age (late 20s-early 30s) would begin an affair with a man nearly sixty, she manages to make one accept that Jean would find Blake charming enough to be seduced by him. She makes Jean a woman who has her child as THE priority, and for whom she will always sacrifice for. The conflict she shows between the passion she has for Blake and the love she has for Buddy is at the heart of her story. When she finally ends the affair due to Blake's actions, there isn't a big emotional scene. It's very quiet, and Gyllenhaal performance makes it all the more heartbreaking. Less with words and more with her face, she expresses the hurt the decision she knows she has to make and the pain it causes her.

Though he has a small performance, Robert Duvall as Blake's friend Wayne manages to make an impression, offering wisdom and support to Blake. Farrel (someone I'm not a fan of) does an amazing job sounding like an American country music superstar. In the scenes they have together, you can tell that Sweet and Blake have conflicting emotions about each other: a mixture of respect and resentment, admiration and contempt one for the other.

In a film like Crazy Heart which deals with a country music performer, the music is vital. The soundtrack is wonderful. On many songs my feet were tapping the ground, and the slower songs were appropriately sad.   Of particular note is the theme, The Weary Kind, a slow lament beautifully performed. What's more amazing is that Bridges and Farrel themselves did the singing, and especially how Farrel could lose his Irish brogue and sound like if he could be the opening act for someone like Josh Turner (pity he couldn't lose his accent in Alexander, but I digress).

As it stands, Crazy Heartis a portrait of a man who has fallen hard and tries to rise. He knows in the end that things did not turn out the way he would have liked them to. However, to quote another country song, he is "leaving here a better man".

1 comment:

  1. Wheew!!!!! Man I too would give this a B. I really enjoyed this movie. I would recommend it to country music fans. I think he is one of those typical country singers, I mean he goes around playing in small bars and travels on his own. I would buy this on Blue Ray/DVD when it comes out. By the way "Leaving here a better man," was sung by Clint Black(for the people who read this comment, I know the webmaster knows).

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