Review: ‘Crazy Heart’

Jeff Bridges gives an Oscar-worthy performance as broken country icon Bad Blake.

Tony Libera

âÄúCrazy HeartâÄù DIRECTED BY: Scott Cooper STARRING: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall. RATED: R SHOWING AT: Area Theaters Country music âÄî real country music, as opposed to the bunkum produced by Kid Rock, et al. âÄî has always been a genre concerned with loss, from the hurt of cheating wives to the pain of life imprisonment. It works for music, but too much of the stuff can bog down even the best of movies. Loss saturates every aspect of âÄúCrazy HeartâÄù and its mangy anti-hero, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), but keen direction and superb acting keep the film out of the muck. The film opens with swooping aerial pans of an aging Suburban puttering down a stolid southern landscape, tying together two bastions of a forgotten American mythos before introducing Blake and his rough-and-tumble ways. He exits his truck with zipper undone, pours a bottle of urine out onto parking lot tar and enters a bowling alley that will house his next gig. Within five minutes, we understand that BadâÄôs life has fallen to pieces. ThereâÄôs an undeniable familiarity to the story that follows; that of a former superstar sinking into the twilight of a smoldering career, and many will draw comparisons to 2008âÄôs âÄúThe Wrestler .âÄù Blake, an old broken down piece of meat in his own right, drags his sorry hide across the country, playing small venues, wooing the local talent and slugging whiskey âÄòtil the cows come home. Eventually he stumbles across a young woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist and mother, who peaks his romantic interest and forces him to reconsider his lot in life. The plot may be derivative, but âÄúCrazy HeartâÄù is considered with such delicate care âÄî from the direction to the acting to the musical scoring âÄî that it becomes a moving experience. Writer, producer and director Scott Cooper fawns over the protagonist in his debut effort, holding the grizzled slob within the frame as long as he can and bathing him in heavy shadows to highlight his despondence. ThereâÄôs a devoted attendance to Blake that translates into tenderness, coaxing the audience to consider the alcoholic wreck with pity instead of disdain. CooperâÄôs only mishandling is the labored pacing that drags âÄúCrazy HeartâÄù to 112 minutes , but his clever cinematography and effortless application of the show-donâÄôt-tell philosophy help cover this minor blemish. Length becomes even less of a problem in light of the tremendous acting clinic thatâÄôs put on display. BadâÄôs tale would have been tragic with any actor in the lead role, but Jeff BridgesâÄô perfect blend of disheveled machismo, fallen grace and Dude-like cool makes his misfortune all the more potent. He grumbles and growls, sulks and swaggers, and when he picks up his guitar and croons, he sounds like a loyal disciple of both Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen . T-Bone BurnettâÄôs heart-wrenching ballads help the cause, but itâÄôs BridgesâÄô vocals that provide charm and authenticity. The supporting roles are also faithfully attended. Colin Farrell becomes more likeable the more he steers away from mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, and Robert Duvall is, well, Robert Duvall, sound as a seasoned mentor and close friend. But one has to wonder how the hell Whoville citizen Maggie Gyllenhaal keeps getting cast in movies. âÄúCrazy HeartâÄù is by no means a feel-good flick, but it is certainly powerful. Jeff BridgesâÄô performance is as comedic as it is deeply poignant, and it just might lead to Oscar gold. 4/5 Stars