Crazy Heart

Movie Information

The Story: A down-on-his-luck alcoholic country singer on the dead-end circuit gets a chance at a comeback and personal redemption. The Lowdown: A straightforward redemption drama that's damaged by an unpersuasive romance, but offers the compensation of a strong lead performance from Jeff Bridges.
Score:

Genre: Redemption Drama With Country Music
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Jack Nation
Rated: R

I’m giving first-time director Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart four stars because I think it deserves them, not because I personally liked it. I didn’t care for it. I’m not keen on country music, and I’ve seen enough late-in-the-day stories for a lifetime about the personal redemption of characters I don’t actually relate to. Plus, I’ve seen them done better. Both Tender Mercies (1983) and The Wrestler (2008) come immediately to mind. In fact, the country-music aspect and the presence of Robert Duvall virtually defy you not to compare Crazy Heart to Tender Mercies—and in most respects, this is not in the favor of the new film. In one respect, however, it may be. That respect—as you have likely heard—is Jeff Bridges.

Bridges’ performance as the washed-up, alcoholic country singer “Bad” Blake has been called “fearless,” which is really nothing but a fancy way of saying that it’s a completely unself-conscious one. In other words, Bridges has no trouble showing his age, his out-of-shape body or just generally being as unglamorous as possible. While that shows a certain amount of commitment, it doesn’t by any means ensure a great performance. In fact, it’s just as likely to result in an embarrassing one, but not this time. It’s not the glamming down that does it; it’s the unaffected honesty. While the screenplay for Crazy Heart doesn’t always ring true, Bridges does.

The film essentially follows a standard trajectory. Star on the skids with a drinking problem gets a shot at redemption—partly through the love of a woman—and he struggles, fails and then picks himself up. It’s nothing new under the sun and its various embellishments are hardly inspired. The central love interest with Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is not entirely persuasive. It’s difficult to see the appeal Blake has for her and the screenplay does nothing to fill in the blanks. It’s ultimately as if the romance exists simply because it’s essential to the story arc. Gyllenhaal is occasionally able to pull it together, but the tonal shifts required by the screenplay ultimately defeat her.

In contrast, the scenes between Blake and his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) work extremely well. As with Bridges’ performance, there’s a sense of honesty that underlies their admittedly limited time together on-screen. The same is true in a somewhat different—and more clichéd—key concerning the scenes between Blake and his ever-faithful old friend Wayne (Robert Duvall). There’s no sense here of anything being forced to make the narrative move forward, and that certainly isn’t the case with most of the Gyllenhaal scenes.

In addition to Bridges’ performance and those of Farrell and Duvall, it’s worth noting that director Scott Cooper has also crafted a very good-looking film. Crazy Heart boasts a surprising richness of color. It also has an unusually strong sense of traditional formal composition that is quite unusual for a low-budget indie movie. It may not always be believable in terms of object placement—there’s no arguable logic in how far from a phone booth Blake parks his truck, except that it balances the image—but it’s invariably visually pleasing. It also makes for a more expensive-looking production than so much standard indie fare, and this is refreshing to encounter.

In no way is Crazy Heart a remarkable film. It is, however, a film with enough remarkable things in it to make it worth a look—even if, like me, you’ve seen more than your fair share of this particular sub-genre. Rated R for language and brief sexuality.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

8 thoughts on “Crazy Heart

  1. Tom Ciano

    Funny you mention the phone booth. I knew there was something off about that scene, but I didn’t notice that the truck was parked too far.

    I live in the west, and what I noticed was that there is no way in hell a phone booth would be out in the middle of such a (beautiful) nowhere road as that. There’s probably not even any electric within miles of that road, much less a working pay phone booth. And just like a fake booth plopped down on the side of a road, that thing rocked and moved every time Jeff moved or touched it, so much so that I thought it was going to fall over!

    And it was an important scene…the DIALOG was important, not the scenery. It’s usually fairly easy to just suspend disbelief, but that booth was SO wrong it just ruined the scene for me and jolted me back into the reality that I was in a theater watching an actor named Jeff Bridges acting in a movie. It took me out of the story and the character and the make-believe. That shot was so fake to me, so made-up, that instead of imagining the wide open spaces, I imagined a crew, and mike booms, and shades, and cables, and coolers filled with soda, and RV trailers just outside of my sight. I had to concentrate hard to pay attention to what Jeff ( he stopped being Bad for that scene) was saying.

    But, I still loved the whole movie…Jeff better win the Oscar. HE made it real again within seconds of the next scene.

  2. Me

    Tom maybe he was at the famous Mojave Desert phone booth, ha yeah but i see your point. If you havent heard of it here is some info.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojave_phone_booth

    I kind of felt like i was being hit over the head with the “alcohohlic” thing? A more subtler film about alcohol and that has a rural country kind of vibe i would recommend is The Whole Shootin’ Match. I noticed Maggie Gyllenhaal was doing that Kristen Stewart hair play a lot in this film too. I don’t know what it was about Collin Ferrell that bugged me but maybe it was because almost every time he was on screen he had to mention that Bad was his mentor, we get it. I thought the little speech/shout out thing he did after the surprise duet was a little cheesy also.

    I wish Levon Helm would have been involved in this film some how i would have loved to seen him and Duvall on screen together.

    Oh yeah and i liked how he had his pants open all the time.

  3. Me

    Tom maybe he was at the famous Mojave Desert phone booth, ha yeah but i see your point. If you havent heard of it here is some info.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojave_phone_booth

    I kind of felt like i was being hit over the head with the “alcohohlic” thing? A more subtler film about alcohol and that has a rural country kind of vibe i would recommend is The Whole Shootin’ Match. I noticed Maggie Gyllenhaal was doing that Kristen Stewart hair play a lot in this film too. I don’t know what it was about Collin Ferrell that bugged me but maybe it was because almost every time he was on screen he had to mention that Bad was his mentor, we get it. I thought the little speech/shout out thing he did after the surprise duet was a little cheesy also.

    I wish Levon Helm would have been involved in this film some how i would have loved to seen him and Duvall on screen together.

    Oh yeah and i liked how he had his pants open all the time.

  4. nancy

    I didn’t care much for the movie and I never would have believed a phone booth could be out there in the middle of nowhere. Thanks for the info.

  5. Ben

    So I cant help but wonder if Jeff Bridge’s exasperation upon pulling into the bowling alley in the opening scene was a reference to the Big Lebowski… (Yes, I AM one of those Lebowski nerds)

    This movie was genius… Except for Collen Ferrell.. .He sucked… They could’ve casted someone way better than him for that role… And Ken’s right about the awkward screen chemistry between Bridges and Gyllenhaal… It was a little weird… But, man, Ill remember this flick for a long time

  6. Me

    The more i think about it maybe the audience isn’t supposed to like the Collin Ferrell character. The way i took it he is supposed to embody the more mainstream “sold out” kind of “country pop” star, i think thats why Bad is reluctant to write any songs for him and then mentions something about him ruining it later on.

  7. AC

    Saw this last night, and Robert Duvall stole the movie for me! Every time he was on screen it was a wow! Jeff played his character as raw and real as could be, but I got tired of it. Gyllenhaal was weak, and Collin Ferrell brought nothing to his character. As Ken said, we’ve seen this before. Three stars for me.

  8. Any movie Jeff Bridges does I have to watch. The Big Lebowski was my favorite, even though this is not a comedy and will not fall into the same persona as the Dude, I think I’ll still like it. Plan on picking up the DVD!

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