Bridges an Oscar contender in “Crazy Heart”

Peterson Hill

Some movies are like watching two cars dancing dangerously close to each other on a highway. Scott Cooper’s directorial debut, “Crazy Heart,” is such a film. It is a dark voyage into the shadowy caverns of alcoholism while simultaneously showing an aging country music performer fall in love with a good-hearted woman.

Many films involve alcoholic characters, but it is rare that we truly get to meet one as intimately as we do here. Of course, there are two cinematic triumphs about alcoholism – “Barfly” and “Leaving Las Vegas,” – however, this is in a much different vein than those films. Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) still has a glimmer of hope because he doesn’t exactly hate himself, just the version of himself that has spent most of his life drunk.

The performance from Jeff Bridges as Bad, a once-famous country singer reduced to playing dive bars and bowling alleys in small southwestern town, isn’t merely good, but transcendent. He is all but poised to win an Oscar on March 7, and I don’t see how anyone else could. His performance is equally charming and self-destructive while still rousing his fans who come out to see him.

Cooper’s film follows Bad Blake as he drifts from town to town playing small gigs in any place that his agent can get him a gig. While in Sante Fe, he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who he feels an instant attraction to regardless of their 30-year age difference. Bad charms Craddock and her son, and against her better judgment, she lets him into her life.

There are two more crucial characters in the film: Wayne (Robert Duvall), who is a long time friend of Bad’s, and Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), who has risen to the top while still following Bad to the bottom. These two supporting characters, though their scenes are few, are crucial to the story. Tommy hasn’t given up on Bad, and indeed is trying to help him, but sometimes it is harder to help those you love than it appears to be.

Wayne is in a similar situation. He is a long time friend of Bad’s, and he knows that sometimes people are the way they are and their isn’t anything you can do about it because it is up to them.

The movie follows a familiar plot line, but movies are about the way a story is told instead of the story itself. Bad’s life of hard-living, second chances, and near misses turns into something truly special with the muted direction and the performances, which are all very good – especially Gyllenhaal how provides the movie with a heart and soul of her own.

An aspect that elevates the film is the music, which was all produced by T. Bone Burnett. Bridges looks as though he has been performing these songs to his dedicated fans for most of his life. Bad still has his devoted fans that remember him when he was a once great star, and they have graciously followed him to the bottom.

The real treasure among the music is the song written by T. Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham “The Weary Kind.” It is a sad and hopeful song about second chances in a life that has been given all the chances it deserves.

Cooper, who also adapted the screenplay from Thomas Cobb’s book, knows just how much to show of everything. He doesn’t over-emphasize the wreck that this man is, but he also doesn’t paint him as someone who is an easy fix from his situation.

The film was slated to be released on TV, but Cooper knew that he had made something special. So, he peddled the film around and found someone to pick it up, and now it is on a straight line to win Bridges his first Oscar.

There is a scene that could be Bridges’ finest piece of acting in the “Crazy Heart.” He makes a wounded phone call to his 30-year old son that he hasn’t seen since he was four. Bridges knows that Bad won’t blame him if his son won’t talk to him, but sometimes in life you have to make amends and apologize for your former transgression. Sometimes people can’t forgive us, and sometimes we don’t want them to, because in the end, you have to be able to forgive yourself first. For moments like this, “Crazy Heart” is one of last year’s finest.

Bottom Line: “Crazy Heart” could win Jeff Bridges his first Oscar. Every performance, every story line, and every song works to make a strong emotional impact that viewers should not miss.

4 out of 4 stars

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Written by: Scott Cooper

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall

MPAA Rating: R