Sunday, December 27, 2009
Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart centers on the type of story we have all seen and heard countless times before, but it has one thing going for it that makes it a genuine film, and that is Jeff Bridges. One of the industry's most respected actors, Bridges has finally found a role that could land him his first ever Academy Award. His portrayal of Bad Blake is the reason to sit through this film, and if he does in fact win the Oscar, it will put a smile on my face. There have been few male performances this year that have carried a film from start to finish, and Bridges delivers what might be the best one of the bunch.
Bad Blake is a 57-year-old country singer, but that's only half of his life. The other half consists of drinking McClure's whiskey. Bad is just as much of an alcoholic as he is a musician, and this film takes both aspects of his life very seriously. I have a feeling that many people might go into this film expecting the drinking habit to be window-dressing, but that is not the case at all. As Bad says in the film, "I've been drunk most of my life." It seems that this very fact has inhibited this man from sustaining any important relationships throughout his life. He's been married four times and he has a son in his late twenties that he hasn't seen since he was four years old. Aside from the occasional one-night stand, and the support of an old friend (Robert Duvall), Bad is a loner.
After one of his shows, Bad does a favor for a friend and agrees to do an interview with a young journalist named Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The earliest scenes between these two characters display the natural charm of Mr. Blake. Jean is a single mother, and it is evident from the get go that this country singer is nothing but a drunk mess, but even she can't seem to resist his charisma.
Bad is also a man haunted by a previous relationship with Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell). Tommy was an up-and-coming country prospect, and Bad took him under his wing. He was apparently an effective mentor as Tommy is now a huge star, while Bad is left in the dust. Bad's agent informs him that a reconciliation with Tommy could help boost his career, and it's time for Blake to decide if he really is desperate enough to accept.
One of the film's unsung heroes is Ryan Bingham. He has a small cameo early on in the film, but he will be most known for writing the film's best original song, "The Weary Kind." He is guaranteed to get an Oscar nomination, and will most likely win for writing this beautiful piece of music. Just listening to this tune over the closing credits makes the film much more satisfying. It is a moving, personal tribute to Bridges' character and the life he has lead, and it is one of the things I will remember most about this picture.
Ever since Crazy Heart was screened for critics, endless comparisons have been made, for obvious reasons, to Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. After seeing the film, I can say that they have two things in common. First off, there are the brilliant lead performances from both Mickey Rourke and Jeff Bridges. Second, there are the two moving original songs from both Bruce Springsteen and Ryan Bingham.
Done. The comparisons end there, mostly due to the fact that Crazy Heart is helmed by a first time writer/director in Scott Cooper, while The Wrestler was made by Darren Aronofsky, one of the most gutsy and innovative filmmakers of his time. For perfectly understandable reasons, Cooper writes a very safe script, allowing for Bridges to carry most of the load. He doesn't take enough risks to bring the film to the level of the lead performance, and he also doesn't seem to have much control over the tone. There are a variety of dark moments in this film, particularly the sequences centering on Bad's alcoholism, and they are done very effectively. However, especially towards the end of the film, Cooper seems to aim for audience satisfaction over gritty, realistic storytelling. He doesn't seem to have a definitive vision of where he wants the story to go. These are hardly unusual faults of a first time director, and I am not bashing Cooper by any means, but to put this film as a whole in the same league as The Wrestler isn't justified at all.
To say that this is Jeff Bridges' film is an understatement. The supporting cast turns in solid performances, but Bridges, a man who has been playing guitar and singing since he was a teenager, was born to play Bad Blake. It's the type of character that can put a signature on an illustrious career. The film's trailer hyped this as "the performance of a lifetime," and the more I think about it, the more I begin to buy into that statement. The aviator sunglasses, the McClure's whiskey, the cigarettes, the pick-up truck, the way he steps out of his car after the long road trips. There are dozens of things that make this character so memorable, and Bridges slips into the role beautifully. There are a select amount of performers out there that can transcend and elevate what's written on the page, and with this performance, Bridges proves that he is one of them. He creates a character, and for that matter, a film you can't help but care about.