Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Crazy Heart (2009) ***½

Even though Jeff Bridges won the Best Actor Oscar for “Crazy Heart” last year, it took me until just recently to see the movie. Even after the Netflix disc arrived, it sat for a while. It’s a testament to how a raunchy comedy or a big-budget action movie is easy to throw in the DVD player, but a serious drama is too easy to keep putting off. These critically acclaimed dramas just always seem like they might be a real downer, and ruin an otherwise fine evening. Of course, once we finally settled in to watch it, “Crazy Heart” was completely engrossing and not a downer at all.

The only bad thing about the film is the name of the main character, Bad Blake. It says a lot for how convincingly Jeff Bridges inhabits the role that I was able to get past what a dumb-ass name his character had chosen. Blake is a fading country music legend who is desperate to rekindle his career, or at least make enough money to keep himself in decent whiskey. What is cool about Blake is that despite how his alcoholism is ravaging his body, he never misses a show. He may show up drunk, but even when he is playing in a small-town bowling alley, he manages to give something to the fifty to a hundred people who show up to see him play. When he meets and falls for a reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), however, Blake has to face up to how pathetic he and his life have become. It takes a little while, but he is finally inspired to clean up his act and start writing songs and caring about life again.

Maggie Gyllenhaal really redeemed herself for me in this movie. I had most recently seen her in “The Dark Knight,” which is an excellent movie, but Gyllenhaal has a real do-nothing, damsel-in-distress role that left me feeling very unimpressed with her. In “Crazy Heart” she is considerably better as a single mom trying to figure out whether to take a chance on a bad bet like Bad Blake.

No film is so good that it doesn’t get a little better when Robert Duvall pops in. Duvall adds some class to the role of Blake’s bartender, recovering-alcoholic, best friend. His presence in this movie is especially cool for those who recall Duvall’s 1983 movie “Tender Mercies,” in which HE plays a down-and-out country singer trying to put his life together.

Another supporting character that deserves mention is the music. In addition to a background of classic country by the likes of Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Townes Van Zandt, the film features Jeff Bridges singing some beautiful original songs by Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett. The creative duo deservedly brought home the Best Song Oscar for this film.

At the end of the day, though, “Crazy Heart” belongs to Jeff Bridges, and he knocks it out of the park. I’ve worked with a lot of alcoholics, and he really gets that part of the performance right. Bridges doesn’t just play Blake as a drunk, though. He plays him as a poet with a big heart and the soul of a true entertainer.

3.5 stars

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