Saturday, March 13, 2010

Crazy Heart [movie review]

* Released theatrically in December 2009
It's hard to believe now, but Crazy Heart almost ended up as a direct-to-DVD release. Made for only $7 million by Country Music Television, it was eventually salvaged by Fox Searchlight after Paramount mysteriously decided not to give it a theatrical release. Granted, it's not exactly the most commercially viable film to try and market, but Jeff Bridges' performance is clearly exceptional, of the calibre that warrants Oscar attention. In fact, it did, and Bridges just won the Oscar for best performance in a lead role. Additionally, the movie won the Oscar for best original song ("The Weary Kind") and received a nomination for Maggie Gyllenhaal's supporting performance. Gee, do you think someone at Paramount just got fired?
The movie is based on the 1987 novel by Thomas Cobb and was directed and adapted by Scott Cooper. It stars Bridges as Bad Blake, a 57 year old worn-out country singer who smokes and drinks too much, has four marriages behind him, no family ties, and drives a battered Chevy truck from town to town in the American southwest playing bowling alleys and dive bars with local pickup bands. Based on a composite of old school country artists like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson (who Bridges resembles, with his long grey hair and unkempt beard), Blake is living proof that his hard-done-by, bitter lyrics aren't just a laughable, negative propagation of the genre stereotype - after a few minutes of seeing how this guy lives, you'll know that they're rooted in truth. Bridges wears his character comfortably, turning in a great performance that is totally devoid of vanity.
Gyllenhaal plays Jean, an aspiring music writer and single mother who is leery of men based on her shaky track record. She lands an interview with Blake, who becomes smitten with her and a romance ensues. This is one of the few parts of the film that rings hollow - the approximately 25 year age difference between the two, not to mention the fact that Blake is named "Bad" for a reason, flies in the face of conventional wisdom that she would ever fall for him. Once you get past this, their relationship does manage to take on some interesting complexities and nuances, but the Jean character ultimately feels a little underwritten. That Gyllenhaal received an Oscar nomination is a real head scratcher - she's not horrible or anything, just far from Oscar-worthy (if you put any stock in the relevance of such accolades, which I tend not to).
Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell have smaller roles, with Farrell playing a former protégé of Blake's (named Tommy Sweet) who has now gone on to the big time. Sweet and Blake's paths cross, leading to an uneasy tension that can be traced back to a cryptic incident between the two in their past, which is cleverly left undiscussed.
The music in Crazy Heart really stands out, instilling a true element of classic country authenticity thanks to the score and music written by T-Bone Burnett. Bridges does his own singing and guitar playing, infusing a realism to the role and showing the confidence that forty years of practice in his real life have given him. Farrell also does his own playing and singing, turning in a solid vocal performance on "The Weary Kind".
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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