“Crazy Heart” Movie Review

    For this entire awards season, Jeff Bridges has been riding a wave of praise for his excellent work as the character, Bad Blake, in “Crazy Heart.”  Seemingly at the top of the list in every critics circle and at the podium of every awards show, Bridges has buzz sawed through the competition and has the momentum as we near Oscar night.  With a limited 2009 release and a recent wide release, I had great anticipation to see this film and marvel in Bridge’s performance myself.  I was not disappointed.

     Working from a novel by Thomas Cobb,  promising writer/director Scott Cooper weaves a very emotional story about a fading country singer who is an alcoholic and lives an overall dysfunctional life.  We’re introduced to Bad Blake (Bridges) as he plays small gigs in bowling alleys and bars.  It’s clear Bad was once big time, but years of bad decisions, failed marriages, and alcoholism have left him broke with virtually nothing.  It is truly sad when someone is lucky enough to make it big, only to hit rock bottom and Bad is getting close.

     While playing in a small bar, a member of the back up band asks Bad if he’s willing to be interviewed by a reporter for a local newspaper.  As a favor, he accepts and meets Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhall in an Oscar nominated performance.  Soon she falls for Bad and they begin a relationship which includes Bad taking well to her 4 year old son.  In the mix is Tommy Sweet, played by Colin Farrell.  Tommy is a former protege of Bad, but has since become a huge country music star.  There is clearly a rivalry (mostly on Bad’s part), but Tommy holds a respectful affection for Bad and certainly realizes Bad had a lot to do with his rise to the top.  The ever dependable Robert Duvall also appears in the film as Wayne, a protector of sorts and friend to Bad.  Though its up for debate, the members of this cast have never been better.  Whereas Duvall has proven himself in similar roles, Bridges, Farrell and Gyllenhall give performances they are not likely to exceed anytime soon.  Each scene comes across as down home and authentic.  I really can’t say enough about these fine actors.  It’s great to see both Bridges and Gyllenhall recognized for their work with Oscar nominations and I would go as far to say Farrell was snubbed.  He should’ve been nominated as well.

     With any “Best Actor” worthy performance, I always try to find a parallel performance for comparison.  If there is a weakness in Crazy Heart, it may be the familiarity of the story.  Last year, Oscar buzz was strong with Sean Penn for his performance in “Milk” and Mickey Rourke’s performance in “The Wrestler.”  As I watched Crazy Heart, I realized the film follows a very similar narrative to The Wrestler almost to a fault.  A former star in his chosen field is now down on his luck, hanging on to his previous fame and exploiting it where he can.  He is broke and addicted to drugs or alcohol.  He falls for an unlikely woman, who has a young son, and she falls for him.  He has occasion to visit a doctor who tells him what he is doing to himself (drugs or alcohol) will soon cause serious harm.  He has an estranged son/daughter who won’t speak to him.  He feels really bad about this.  Bottom line, both films have huge similarities.  Almost as if the subject matter and character names were fit into the same outline.  This makes the story seem mediocre, but it doesn’t really matter as both have celebrated performances by their respective stars.  Mickey Rourke should have won last year.  Jeff Bridges will win this year.

     I am neither a fan of professional wrestling, nor am I a fan of country music, but just as I was drawn into the character study of “Randy the Ram”, I found myself immersed into the mind of Bad Blake.  I kept waiting for this guy to have the same fate as Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas.”  I mean, how does someone drink whiskey as if they are quenching their thirst?  He’s eating a steak and baked potato and in between bites he washes it down with hard liquor?  Who does that?  In a scene where Jean is addressing the issue and goes to kiss him only to be repulsed by the odor, I swear I could smell it in the theater.  The performance is that good.  Jeff Bridges just has a very “real” quality about him.  He’s so unique, you wonder if he’s really acting or is that just how he is in real life?  Either way, it’s a performance for the ages in what would’ve been a little known film, again like The Wrestler.  I can only hope the attention a likely Oscar win will give the film will mean many more people will see it.  I’ve always been stuck on Jeff Bridges performance as the “Dude” in The Big Lebowski as his defining film role and because that character has been engrained in my mind for years, I won’t say my opinion has changed.  I will say “Crazy Heart” tells all of us what a fine actor Jeff Bridges really is. GRADE: B+