America loves a comeback story, and sadly a lot of Americans love country music, which means the drama Crazy Heart should be an easy sell for audiences this January. A film by and large flying under the radar this awards season, Crazy Heart stars Jeff Bridges as a down-and-out alcoholic musician who discovers a second chance with his career and his life. The movie is good, but it's Bridges' performance that takes it to the next level.
Bridges plays Bad Blake, an aging country singer who used to be among the best. While his protégé (Colin Farrell) has gone on to become one of the biggest stars in the country, Bad has been relegated to performing in cafes and bowling alleys. Long an alcoholic, he has seen his stardom dwindle, several wives come and go and his options disappear. When he falls in love with a young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her four-year old son, however, it appears that a page has turned, but can a 57-year old has-been really change?
When trailers for the drama first appeared, a few people noted Crazy Heart looked a lot like a less-interesting version of The Wrestler. That describes the movie extremely well. Written and directed by first-time director Scott Cooper, Crazy Heart is a more subdued version of the Darren Aronofsky masterpiece: stylistically, Crazy Heart is simpler and dramatically, it isn't as moving.
That's not to say Crazy Heart isn't a good movie. The movie is, for the most part, well written, offering a feel-good story that depicts, with great care (perhaps too much care) the steps the main character takes to get back into the game. The relationship between Gyllenhaal and Bridges is impressively sincere; the two have good chemistry together. And, admittedly, the music is also very good. Aside from rap, country music is one of the worst musical genres, but the songs featured in Crazy Heart - especially the title song - really help carry the picture.
Still, there's nothing astounding about Crazy Heart. Even though a variety of obstacles challenge Bad Blake along his journey to redemption, the movie lacks the conflict an awards contender needs to go from good to great. From the beginning, there is never a sense that things are going to end badly for Bad, and when bad things do happen to him, they aren't that bad. Furthermore, he isn't in control of his own fate: overcoming his alcoholism is important, but since we never see the negative effects of this alcoholism on his career (his turnaround begins long before he decides to go sober), it isn't clear what he actually does for himself; his agent, and his friendship with his younger, more popular apprentice, lead to most of his opportunities. In the end, Crazy Heart is a good but meatless drama.
There's the Jeff Bridges factor, however. The actor turns in one of the finest performances of his career, one that is easily worthy of an Oscar nomination. He plays a convincing drunk, a man with a gravely drawl who has long since accepted his drinking ways and found an unstable balance that allows him to scrape through life without consequence nor accomplishment. As any good actor should, Bridges elevates the material and largely carries the movie.
Crazy Heart is a worthwhile drama that features an incredible performance by Bridges, but Cooper needed to tighten up the story and provide more conflict for his characters to overcome.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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