Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Film Review: Crazy Heart

Everything about this movie screams "Oscar fodder", and maybe it is, but that doesn't prevent Crazy Heart from being a fantastic piece of work. Jeff Bridges owns the lead role; he's not so much acting as living the part of Bad Blake, an aging journeyman country singer trying desperately to hold on to something that resembles a future. Part of the film's appeal is its simplicity; the previous sentence sums up the plot. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's predictable, but from the start this is obviously a redemption story. You might know what happens next, but it's how the characters get there that keeps you involved.

Many people have referred to this as a country music version of The Wrestler, and there is some merit to that. Bad Blake is over the hill, broke, and doing gigs that are beneath him. Along the way he meets a woman (more on that in a bit) that gives him a glimmer of hope, but like everything else in his life it goes wrong.

No one but Jeff Bridges could have played this role. His appearance is full-on Nick Nolte: disheveled, haggard and rambling. The fact that Bridges is a singer/guitarist himself helps tremendously during the band scenes. There's nothing I hate more in a movie than when an actor obviously has no clue what to do with an instrument. Bridges delivers Blake's lines like I imagine he would if you were to meet him on a street corner in real life. Crazy Heart has that '70s indie cinema downer feel, the lovable loser audiences have been rooting for since Paper Moon.

Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell turn in great supporting roles; Farrell was unexpected (he wasn't top-billed and barely glimpsed in the trailers) and only in two scenes but showed that when he wants to be, he can be a great actor. He plays Tommy Sweet, Blake's popular protege and sonic rival. The music itself should be considered a lead role; T-Bone Burnett crafted some amazing songs for this movie, and both Bridges and Farrell sung the songs in the film.

The only gripe I have is Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean, Blake's love interest. She's an OK actress but, as a friend once put it, her face looks like it's painted on a kneecap. I suppose the bar shouldn't be set too high though, considering Blake is a 57-year-old alcoholic burned-out country singer.

First-time director Scott Cooper has set the bar high for his future; not since P.T Anderson's Sydney has a director shown so much potential right out of the gate. Cinematographer Barry Markowitz must be given his due as well. The large expanses of open country are captured beautifully, giving the film almost a Western feel at times. And really, that's what Crazy Heart is: a lone cowboy, searching the land for redemption.

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