- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
eff Bridges has seemingly lurked on the edges of superstardom his entire career. Time after time, movie upon movie, he’s been turning out great, flawless performances since his feature film debut in “The Last Picture Show” nearly 40 years ago. Along the way, many of his contemporaries rose to far greater fame and fortune, and plenty of them on half the talent. But there’s something intensely admirable about this man who stayed out of the limelight, honing his craft year in and year out, seemingly content just to have a career at all. He’s hardly got a widespread fanbase, and yet every fan who is devoted to his work is bloody rabid about him (and I count myself as one of the most rabid). Every one of those fans will name a different performance of his that’s their favorite, and each will explain precisely why it’s his best. And they’ll all be right, because with Jeff Bridges, there are no bad performances. Even when working with weak material, he can be counted on to make the most of it.
He’s arguably the greatest actor of his generation, and has never really sold out in the ways that all too many of those contemporaries have found themselves doing in an effort to stay relevant or make a quick buck. Occasionally, he’ll turn up in some Hollywood blockbuster, like “Iron Man,” and yet even these roles manage to seem as thoughtfully played as when he’s given a true character to dive into. Finally, after all these years, Bridges has been shown some long overdue respect by his peers, who awarded him a Best Actor Oscar for his work in “Crazy Heart.”
The film is the story of Bad Blake (Bridges), a burnt-out, has-been country music star, who travels around the country in an old Suburban playing various dive bars and bowling alleys. In every town, at every venue, he’s shown respect by the people who come out to see him play, and by the various bands he plays with at each show. This would probably be a fun life for someone in their 20’s, but for this man, who is 57, it’s not much of a kick. To endure such a lonely, nomadic existence, he regularly turns to the bottle for comfort. Bad’s largely a functioning alcoholic, at least in matters that revolve around him, but he’s a sloppy one to be sure.
In one town, he meets a novice reporter, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and they spend a night together that must turn into something more. Complicating matters further, Jean is a divorced single mother, and while Bad’s heart is in the right place where her son is concerned, his mind isn’t. There’s also Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, in an inexplicably unbilled turn), the young country star that’s captured the nation’s eyes and ears, and to whom Bad taught everything he knows. There really isn’t a whole lot more to the plot of “Crazy Heart” than what’s outlined above, and if it sounds a bit clichéd, that’s because it probably is. We’ve seen various forms of this story countless times at the movies, and we’ll no doubt see many more. It’s a simple take that can be counted on to work, and yet its greater success lives and dies based on what the actors do with the material.
In this case, the tiny troupe of players does quite a bit to elevate it above the pack. With all of the adoration heaped on Bridges, Gyllenhaal’s performance went largely untalked about, at least until Oscar gave her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. She holds her own in the film, and gives a beautiful, strong turn. It’s not the best of her career, and surely she’s bound for greater things, but given the parameters of the part, there’s no question that she stepped up to the plate. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the movie is Farrell, who, even with limited screentime, disappears into Tommy, a role that easily could’ve come across as smug and shallow, and yet Farrell gives him a humble, human dimension that refuses to let the viewer dislike him for his success. Most impressive is his country singing voice, which is far removed from the Irish thug of “In Bruges,” and could easily play on a country music station today with listeners being none the wiser. Robert Duvall and Paul Herman also have noteworthy parts as Bad’s best friend and manager respectively, but neither ever logs much screen time, and both are there mostly to benefit the drawing of the central figure.
Of course, the real star is Bridges, who plays not so much a layered character, but a man whom we instantly identify with and understand and want to watch. It isn’t Bridges’ greatest performance, but that’s only because the material is somewhat limited. And yet Bridges is so likable with his portrayal that he makes us really care about this old drunk in a way that most actors could never have pulled off. You just love Bad Blake, despite, or perhaps even because of, his many flaws. It’s very easy to admire this movie, because Bridges’ admirable performance is “Crazy Heart.” But it’s also easy to think back on his work in movies like “The Fisher King” and “Fearless” and say that he should’ve won the Best Actor award for fare like that, and yet there isn’t a single reason I can come up with why Bridges shouldn’t have won the award for this flick. It’s solid, real work, and an excellent addition to his ongoing oeuvre.
The other star of the movie is the music, written by Stephen Bruton, T-Bone Burnett, and Ryan Bingham. All of Bad’s signature tunes are infectiously memorable, with “Fallin’ and Flyin’” and “I Don’t Know” being the two standouts – the one’s you’ll be singing to yourself long after the movie’s over. Bad’s songs have a vaguely countrified Leonard Cohen-ness about them, and I’m not sure I listen to them and think of any particular period of country music they could have been a part of. Maybe that’s because they’re that good, and they work fine on their own. These songs don’t feel as if they’re aping anyone else’s style of, but they belong entirely within the closed little universe of Bad Blake and Tommy Sweet.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
For a movie that got as much attention as this one did, this disc is lean on extras. You’d think there would at the very least be a commentary track from writer/director Scott Cooper and Bridges, but no such luck. The centerpiece is a collection of deleted scenes and alternate music takes that runs nearly 30 minutes. It’s surprisingly good material, and it’s shame much of it (including a lengthy section in which Bad meets his son) was excised for the final cut. The scenes are fairly rough, and yet still watchable, and the sound is fine. Aside from that, there’s a very brief discussion between Bridges, Gyllenhaal and Duvall about what brought them to “Crazy Heart,” as well as the theatrical trailer. Finally, there’s a second disc with a digital copy of the film. I hope that Blu-ray producers aren’t getting into the mindset that these digital copies are appealing to most buyers, and that they “count” as a special feature, because I’m not sure that they are. At least in my Blu-ray collection, they’ve all gone completely unused.