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Non-Review Review: Crazy Heart

We all know the story. Artists are apparently particularly self-destructive, especially those who write country and western songs. Crazy Heart isn’t exactly a boldly original film by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, it’s typically predictable up until the end – but it does have a thing or two working in its favour, which elevates it just a bit above these almost conventional films. The first is a rather endearing soundtrack which is – in many ways – better written than the film itself. The second is Jeff Bridges.

Jeff Bridges plays your heartstrings...

The plot follows an ageing country star by the name of “Bad” Blake. He’s had a bit of a tough run of it, skirting the line of being somewhat famous before his career imploded, culminating with Bad ending up playing in bowling alleys and small bars. How much of this fall is Blake’s fault is left up to the audience – he’s an alcoholic and a proud old man. He’s certainly charming and arguably has his heart in the right place, but his life is a disaster zone and he is continually shown to be unwilling to make the changes necessary to fix it.

Throughout the movie, we’re offered the image of Tommy, a younger country-and-western star who plays to crowds of twelve-hundred and came up with Bad, playing in his band. Blake resents the younger singer – perhaps for reaching heights of fame that he never reached, perhaps because he feels like he was left behind – but the movie makes it abundantly clear that Blake stubbornly refuses any help that his former bandmate is willing to offer – dismissing it as pity or charity. In fairness, some of Tommy’s efforts come across as quite patronising – surprising him on stage for a duet, and praising Blake to the crowd, or insisting to an autograph enthusiast that Blake’s autograph is the one that really matters – or even quite cynical – he is willing to pay Blake to write his songs, which will make more money for Tommy than they ever would for Blake – but it’s hard to argue that Blake wouldn’t do well to consider this “charity”, not least because he’s up front about asking for money.

At the same time, Blake falls in love with a woman young enough to be his daughter – a part-time writer for the local paper with a young son. Despite the chemistry between the two, she’s understandably wary about Blake – and perhaps right to be. This is a man who can’t finish a set with vomitting into a trashcan outside the stage door and whose manager has to write it into his contract that Blake is not to be given a tab. He can be charming and might even be genuine, but he’s also self-destructive.

The movie hinges on Bridges’ portrayal of Blake. It would be easy to dismiss the man as really a bit of a jerk. He beds middle-aged groupies at his modest performances and sneaks out in the morning without waking them. He uses his fame in order to manipulate people into giving him free stuff. He isn’t willing to help himself out of the rut that he’s in. He seems like the kind of person who is fascinating to watch, but isn’t a person you could put any trust or faith in either way. Bridges finds the humanity and the charm at the core of the character and brings it to screen. I’m not entirely sure he deserved the Oscar for this particular performance, but he certainly deserved a nomination. I would go so far as to say that Bridges is the single reason to watch the film.

That’s not to dismiss the rest of the cast – Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell and especially Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I will confess that I never really appreciated as a particularly talented actress but is tremendous here – just an observation that the film is a character study, and, as such, its success hinges on the skill of its lead. The plot is fairly standard stuff (there is one minor unpredictable element in the ending, I will admit), and it’s a story we’ve all seen countless times before. The music is pretty damn effective, as Bad’s lyrics seem to evoke the situation he finds himself in now – perhaps an admission that the younger Bad saw which way the wind was blowing. It’s a damn catchy soundtrack, helped by the fact that Farrell and Bridges can sing. We also learn, incidentally, that Robert Duvall cannot.

Crazy Heart isn’t a classic. It’s not a movie we’ll discuss for years to come. It is, however, a pretty good movie, elevated by a superb lead performance and a catchy country-and-western soundtrack.

5 Responses

  1. Indeed, nothing to revolutionize the genre but a solid movie overall. Well performed, splendid background and catchy songs make it worth a watch. My main problem was the relationship between Jean and Bad which sort of came out of nowhere and it’s never explained why she falls for Bad but I guess it’s one of the mysteries of love 😉

    • I thought the movie did well be not sensationalising the relationship between the two. They did love each other, but there was relatively little of the “I wish I could quit you” melodramatics. Just two people who cared about each other in a way that grown-ups do, and a case where one was smart enough to not only see that the other was bad for her, but actually took action on it without seeming over-the-top or falling into hysterics.

  2. Loved this movie and it kind of took me by surprise. I went to see it just before it disappeared from the cinema theatres and was thoroughly enjoyed it. As you say the soundtrack was superb and Jeff Bridges well deserved that Oscar in my opinion. Even Colin Farrell was somewhat tolerable.

    • Yep. I was expecting nothing from it, and it actually made me smile. Which is quite something for someone as jaded as I.

  3. I heart Maggie Gyllenhaal…..

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