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Crazy Heart Review


RATING:
(3 STARS)

“Crazy Heart” doesn’t have the most unique story of the year. If you’ve seen “Walk the Line,” you won’t be too surprised by the trajectory of this film. It doesn’t feature the best direction, writing or technical features in recent memory. However, it does contain one of the greatest performances of 2009 courtesy of veteran actor Jeff Bridges.

Most of you might recognize him as the villain in “Iron Man” or The Dude in “The Big Lebowski,” but he’s been giving exceptional performances for nearly 40 years. He picked up his first Academy Award nomination in 1972, and on Tuesday, he picked up his fifth for “Crazy Heart.” He hasn’t won a little gold statue yet, but he’s the odds-on-favorite this year. If he does win, it will be incredibly well-deserved.

In “Crazy Heart,” Bridges plays Bad Blake, an over-the-hill country singer whose lack of ambition has relegated him to playing in bars and bowling alleys across the Southwest. He’s been divorced four times and has a 28-year-old son who he hasn’t seen since the boy was four. He’s also an alcoholic who often has to exit the stage during his shows to be sick.

Bad’s songs are legendary, but in the past few years, he’s been shown up by his protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell). Bad and Tommy have a cordial relationship, but Bad resents the fact that Tommy won’t help jump start his stalling career by recording a duet.

While playing in Santa Fe, Bad meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a divorced mother who interviews Bad for a local paper. They have a great deal of chemistry, and before Bad heads out to Phoenix to join Tommy on tour, they spend a night together.

Looming over his personal life, however, is Bad’s severe alcoholism. It’s presented in stark detail. Bad always has a drink, often an entire bottle of whiskey, in his hand. It constantly threatens to derail his relationship with Jean, as it did with his four other wives. In Jean, Bad sees a chance to start over. In her four-year-old son, he sees a chance to make amends for abandoning his own son. But, as Jean says, Bad is a risk. At any moment, he’s capable of doing something regrettable, even dangerous.

The movie is all about Bridges. It seems this is a role he was born to play. He has a good enough voice to convince us he is a world-famous country singer. His mannerisms indicate someone who has been through hell, as he has. When Jean asks him where the inspiration for his songs comes from, he responds, “Life, unfortunately.” Bad’s been through it all, and Bridges performance makes that perfectly clear to us.

He and Maggie Gyllenhaal are a great match. Between the danger of a drunken Bad being around Jean’s son and the general age difference between the two, it’s hard to see why she would want to be with someone like him. But Gyllenhaal conveys a certain vulnerability that helps us understand the pairing. There’s a void in her life that can only be filled by a man, and Bad, being the charmer that he is, would love to be that man. Gyllenhaal was surprisingly awarded a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars. I can’t say if it was one of the best of the year, but I’m not disappointed by her recognition (at least not in the way some other nominations disappointed me).

The film was written and directed by rookie filmmaker Scott Cooper. He doesn’t necessarily do a bad job, but there’s nothing inherently special about the way Cooper elects to tell his story. We’ve seen a hundred stories like this before. Cooper is just lucky he was able to land an actor as good as Bridges or else his film would be quite unremarkable.

I’m not the biggest country music fan, but other than Bridges’s performance, the film’s soundtrack is its biggest asset. There’s one song in particular, called “The Weary Kind,” that’s brilliant. The song gives Bad’s career a much-needed boost, but it also sums up his life in a heart-breaking four minutes. The song also received an Oscar nomination, and if you haven’t heard it yet, I recommend you go on iTunes and download it. It’s well worth the $1.29.

Many of you probably didn’t get a chance to see “Crazy Heart” yet, but it will be expanding wide this weekend. It’s not a particularly challenging film, but if you’re interested in seeing an extraordinary performance, or you’re a big fan of country music, I recommend you go check it out.

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