Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a 57-year-old country singer who in between performing in such unattractive venues as bowling alleys and dive bars holes up in cheap hotels; chain smokes, and further pickles his liver with whiskey. This fading music legend seemingly has reasons to drink. For three years, he’s been plagued with writer’s block; he has had three failed marriages, he hasn’t seen his only son for 24 years, he’s broke; and, perhaps worst of all, is the fact that Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), the much younger musician whom he took under his wing, has become a country music superstar. A chance for a better future comes in the guise of Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a 30-something-year-old, single mother who is a Sante Fe based music writer. One afternoon before his gig, she comes to his hotel room for an interview, and the two hit it off. Will their relationship offer him one last shot at happiness or will his drinking sabotage everything?
Based on Thomas Cobb’s novel, “Crazy Heart” has earned three Academy Award nods, for its original song “The Weary Kind,” and for performances by Bridges and Gyllenhaal. Of the three nominations, Bridges stands the best chance at a statue. (I think “Take it All” from “Nine” deserves best song, and Mo’Nique will get the best supporting honor for “Precious,” but who knows.) He has some stiff competition in the best leading actor category, but if you see his performance, you will see why he is the most deserving. At nearly 61 years old, Bridges still cuts a fine form; he’s still “got it,” as you might say. In “Crazy Heart,” though, not so much. Bad Blake is a slovenly, overweight, boozy, cigarette smoky, greasy-haired, cowboy hat and sunglasses wearing guy who doesn’t look like he bathes much or brushes his teeth. (While he’s on the road, he chooses to urinate in a plastic jug rather than stop at a rest stop.) More often than not, we see him with this pants unbuckled and his paunch hanging out. He’s sort of “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski” meets Waylon Jennings. And yet as physically repugnant as he is, there is something about this character – thanks only to Bridges’ charisma – that makes him appealing. Blake isn’t just alcohol and cigarettes. He’s truly talented, he makes great biscuits, and he’s great with children – his scenes with four-year-old Buddy (Jack Nation) are joyful. His main problem is that he lets whisky make his decisions.
Another reason that “Crazy Heart” might win Bridges a statue? He already took home an award at the Golden Globes. That, of course, doesn’t guarantee anything either. Mickey Rourke played a similar character in “The Wrestler,” and even though he nabbed a Golden Globe for his performance, he failed to repeat his success at the Oscars. Actually, if you liked “The Wrestler,” you will probably like “Crazy Heart” as they are very similar stories. Both focus on performers who are past their prime but are trying to get back into a business that has left them behind. In both, the leading character has serious health problems brought on by abuse of some kind – Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke) has abused steroids. And in both, the main character tries to reconnect with an estranged child, and in both, the men find romance with a single mother. Lots of similarities, true, only I liked “Crazy Heart” about 100 times more than I did “The Wrestler.” Credit again goes to Bridges. He really is phenomenal.
As far as the supporting performances go, although I typically like Gyllenhaal, this isn’t the highlight of her career. But then Bridges is so outstanding that he overshadows everyone else around him, even Robert Duvall, who has a small role as Blake’s long-time friend, and Farrell, who could have his own singing career if he so chooses. In fact, if they are ever casting for someone to play Scott Stapp, lead singer of Creed, in a biopic anytime soon, they need to give Farrell a call.
“Crazy Heart” is a realistic portrait of a man in serious need of a second chance. On the plus side, it’s also funny, and it contains some great music. Don’t let the “country” label scare you away. It is sort of blues meets zydeco meets rock with country elements. It’s a film that’s certainly worthy of its Oscar buzz.
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