Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart

***1/2

Reviewed by: James Gracey

Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb, Crazy Heart is typical ‘washed-up-country-singer-needs-the-love-of-a-good-woman-to-help-him-quit-the-bottle’ fare; it is elevated to slightly higher standards, however, by the performances of all involved and the conviction and quiet confidence of the writing. Even though much of the film feels familiar, clichéd even, at certain moments Crazy Heart exhibits a refreshing integrity and it frequently resists the urge to venture down all too familiar paths. It is so effective because it is so restrained.

Bridges delivers a quietly astonishing performance and, as is typical of his work, he subtly fleshes out a character and never once resorts to obvious ‘acting’. Bad Blake is an archetype we are all familiar with, but Bridges slips effortlessly beneath his skin and breathes new life into old bones. Opening with what appears to be a reference to The Big Lebowski, in which Blake shows up to a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere to perform a small concert, any further similarities to that film, or even The Dude, are immediately quashed. Bridges is NOT The Dude here. Bad Blake is a chain-smoking, overweight, alcoholic country singer, whose life is gradually sliding off course. And yet Bridges ensures we never feel anything but empathy and resigned understanding for him.

Copy picture

The harder the life, the sweeter the song.

Once we have established that Bad Blake is a lost soul in need of guidance, the love story between him and Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) - a journalist for a small town newspaper and genuine fan of Blake’s back catalogue – takes centre stage. Both characters have been hurt before and what helps bind them together is their mutual wariness – Bridges and Gyllenhaal have a natural rapport that slow-burns with a quiet intensity as their relationship develops. Their initial meetings unfold as they share a drink in his motel room and he finds himself becoming more intrigued by her as she cautiously and respectfully interviews him for an article. He disarms her at one stage by saying: "I don’t want to talk about that, I want to talk about how bad you make this room look."

The beauty and the strength of the writing and central performances throughout Crazy Heart ensure we feel a sense of history for the characters, as though their lives have been unfolding long before we encountered them in this particular narrative. Also integral to the film’s effectiveness is the soundtrack, comprising compositions courtesy of T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. The songs add a sense of depth and richness to the character of Bad Blake and Bridges sings them sounding like he’s gargled razorblades for breakfast, washed down with a lifetime’s worth of whiskey and heartache.

The story does, on occasion, present what initially appear to be predictable and conventional aspects, notably the relationship between Blake and former protégée Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell). Now that roles have been reversed and Tommy is the big star, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he and Blake were on a collision course for a big showdown. Not so. Refreshingly contrary to the usual conventions of such stories, Sweet has not forgotten his old mentor and he remains loyal, providing work for Blake whenever he can. Farrell’s role might be a small one, but he, like everyone else involved – including Robert Duvall in a glorified cameo - delivers a pitch perfect performance. Other clichés are successfully sidestepped and the bittersweet ending, while well signposted, is refreshingly honest and doesn’t short change with an attempt at ‘happy-ever-afters.’

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2010
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A washed up country singer forms an unexpected relationship with a journalist.
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Nick Da Costa ***

Director: Scott Cooper

Writer: Scott Cooper, Thomas Cobb

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

Year: 2009

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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