Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Fans of The Big Lebowski should have a good snicker at the beginning of Crazy Heart. It finds Jeff Bridges, playing withered country-singer protagonist Bad Blake, arriving at a bowling alley.
Bridges, who was The Dude in the cult Coen brothers film, may again be as dishevelled as the feckless slacker Lebowski. But Blake is somewhat less carefree; he’s washed up, has had five failed marriages, spends most of time drunk and has to play his music amidst the sound of falling pins.
Drifting into his life is Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a reporter who wants to interview him, and before long she’s in his rundown motel bed. A survivor of a failed marriage, she has a four-year-old kid in tow, who bonds with Blake.
Still, Blake is a musician who needs to be on the road to make his living and it’s a bad fit for Jean.
Some life-changing events, however, make Blake gain new perspective in life. His protégé, Tommy Sweet, played by a pony-tailed Colin Farrell, tries to help his mentor get back on his feet, but it’s questionable whether Blake really wants to.
Bridges’ performance, much talked about this awards season, is certainly sterling and well-deserving of the numerous accolades, including the Best Actor Golden Globe.
The bruised Blake is down but not defeated, and the joy he has in playing his music is evident despite his hard times. There are some scenes, where Blake throws up into a commode after one-too-many whiskies, that seem Oscar-ready, but Bridges never makes the anti-hero Blake wallow in self-pity or try too hard to elicit sympathy.
Equally impressive is Gyllenhaal, whose sea-blue eyes are utterly mesmerizing. A divorcee who is wounded in love, she gradually falls for the charismatic, self-effacing Blake. In the hand of other actresses, it might be a tough-sell, but Gyllenhaal manages to fulfil the demands of the role.
The film’s best moments, besides those scenes where Bridges takes to the mike, are the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Bridges. Despite the winter-summer romance, there’s an authenticity that comes across between the two damaged souls.
Robert Duvall, who produced the movie, is also great as a friend of Blake trying to help the self-destructive singer out of his downward spiral.
First-time director Scott Cooper adapted the novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb for the screen. Besides doing a superb job with the main cast, he imbues all the bit players with an authenticity that reflects both his love for the music and the characters that encounter Blake.
The story does give itself to a few clichés. We wait for Blake to fail, and when he does, it has disastrous consequences for him and his relationship with Jean.
What is surprising, and the film’s most out-of-tune moment, is how easily he manages to climb out of the hole he has dug into. However, he does find that it is too late to change certain things.
When all is said and sung, Crazy Heart is one long ode to the country and western genre, and a wonderfully soulful one at that.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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