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The true hallmark of a timeless performance is its ability to put leverage on an exhausted story and not only make it seem enlivened, but also like one of a kind. Jeff Bridges accomplishes that and more with his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart; the crux of a legendary career. The narrative drive of Crazy Heart, which is out on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, is purely actor-centric as its extremely simplistic tale of regret and redemption could have easily sunk to the level of after-school special. More than anything else, the film from first-time director Scott Cooper is supremely entertaining and absorbing; quite a feat for a film with bland, paint-by-number trailers.
This pseudo-country tale is reminiscent of a mingling of Hustle and Flow and The Wrestler. Perhaps it is no coincidence both of these films also garnered Oscar nominations for their leads (Terrance Howard and Mickey Rourke respectively). Is this a product of a blind, biopic-loving academy? In these three cases, the answer would be a resounding “no” as this trio of talents brings a spark to his respective project with roles as memorable as they are captivating. Like any successful story with a musical focal point, the original songs put forth by T-Bone Burnett are superbly written and highly authentic. If mainstream country music usurped even a sliver of the talent on display in Crazy Heart, you would be looking at a boot-stompin’ fan.
Again, as with the story, the music achieves a whole new level of gravitas thanks to Bridges who, even when depicting an inebriate, can croon like an old pro. Colin Ferrel also appears as Tommy Sweet, a former bandmate of Bridges’ “Bad Blake,” who shows impressive vocal deftness, hand-in-hand with his best performance in recent memory. Rounding out the acting trifecta is Maggie Gyllenhaal as the requisite love interest of Blake who was also graced with an Oscar nod (although no win). Gyllenhaal’s Jean (with a little whippersnapper in tow) is sweet and naïve with the right amount of spunk. The relationship between the two becomes the driving force behind the redemptive storyline.
Preceding that atonement, however, is what you may call a downward spiral. Burnt out and playing at two-bit bars and bowling alleys, former country star Bad Blake long ago hit rock bottom and has kept on digging ever since. Dousing himself into a stupor on a nightly basis is only interrupted by his need to smoke and make merry with the ladies. At a gig that blurs together like all that preceded it, Blake meets with a pretty journalist (Gyllenhaal) interested on writing a piece on the fallen idol. Despite her better judgment she falls for him and he for her and her young son Buddy (Jack Nation). Feeling enlivened for the first time since his fall from fame, Blake looks to rebuild his career with the help of now superstar Tommy Sweet, but the path to restitution is never as clear as it appears.
All those involved are firing on all cylinders, so to speak, with passion and enthusiasm in hand (and heart). There is rarely a false note in Crazy Heart and any rifts in quality are quickly polished by Bridges. Depictions of a booze-addled underdog can go wrong at so many points, whether by way of manipulation, suffocating sentimentality or desertion of core focus. Avoiding these pitfalls and trusting in the actors to carry the narrative and not steering the characters into situations which could excite a false note, Crazy Heart is an honest country fable that strikes all the right chords.
Directed by Scott Cooper
Written by Scott Cooper, Thomas Cobb (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell
Other Player Affinity Reviews:
Kieran thought: “Crazy Heart had all the trapping of being a riddled fill with a plot we have all seen before. But under the direction of Scott Cooper and with fantastic performances from Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart is a good actor‘s film. Cooper gave the film a conformable pace and kept it fresh, twisting some of it’s conventions. It’s tone was effectively earthy and realistic (even if it’s a bit of a stretch to believe Bridges and Gyllenhall were in a relationship). Bridges’ performance alone makes Crazy Heart a good film to watch. He finally won an Oscar he truly deserved for a great career.” Rating: 8/10
Steven thought: “Crazy Heart at times appears to be no more than a fictional re-imagining of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. There’s nothing original about a washed-up singer with a drug problem who finds a shot at redemption in the form of a beautiful woman. In fact, Robert Duvall, who stars in this film, won an Oscar for basically the same performance in the film Tender Mercies. Yet Crazy Heart works. It’s easy to follow the simple story and Bridges plays Blake with so much tireless conviction. He wears down the audience with his believability to the point that no matter how badly you might want to see his character as nothing more than one of many aging alcoholic performers in cinema history, you simply can’t help but resonate with his inner torment.” Rating: 7/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.6/10