Crazy Heart an Entertaining, Unoriginal Redemption Story
When we first encounter the protagonist of Crazy Heart, he’s emptying a milk jug full of his own piss in a bowling alley parking lot. Meet Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), former country star and current broke-down 57-year old with a heart of gold (and too little blood in his alcohol stream, if the multiple shots of him vomiting into various receptacles are any evidence).
Blake hauls around the country in a ’78 Suburban, playing any dive that’ll host him, his “Bad’s Boys” mates long replaced by a series of pickup bands. It’s through one of these groups that he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a local journalist and single mother to towheaded scamp Buddy. Jean’s looking to interview Bad for the Santa Fe newspaper, so she drops in on his motel room, finding a towel-clad Blake eating takeout and watching telenovelas. If the two leads were played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, there’d be some sort of wacky misunderstanding followed by realization of mutual attraction but they’re not, so one Lefty Frizzell name drop (and a bottle of whiskey) is all that’s needed for the pair to make a connection.
Writer/director Scott Cooper then condenses about 80 pages of text (the movie is adapted from author Thomas Cobb’s 1989 novel Crazy Heart) into just a few minutes of film; in no time at all, Bad Blake is making breakfast for Buddy and Jean and hosting them at his Texas home. Meanwhile, Jean seems to have no problem with the shady ethical practice of having sex with one’s interview subject, who also happens to be an alcoholic 25 years her senior who’s got puke in his beard.
As Blake travels the Southwest, relying on freebies from liquor store owners and busted groupies, former Bad’s Boys sideman Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) has hit the big time, sporting a ponytail and earrings while playing to thousands. He hasn’t forgotten his old boss though, and soon Bad is opening for Sweet. Thus begins part two of the film’s redemption storyline. We’ve all seen it before, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting, thanks to some excellent performances.
Jeff Bridges, who embodies Bad Blake so thoroughly that you can almost smell the booze and stale cigarettes, is a shoo-in for an Oscar nod, while Maggie Gyllenhaal imbues Jean with shy charm. Although Colin Farrell is good as Blake’s Keith Urbanesque former protégé, he doesn’t quite lose himself in his character the way Bridges and Gyllenhaal do, so it’s a little difficult to tamp down the “hey, it’s Colin Farrell!” feeling every time he appears onscreen.
Apart from Bridges, the star of Crazy Heart is its soundtrack. T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton (whose career provided some inspiration for Bridges’ portrayal of Bad Blake, according to the Wall Street Journal) did an incredible job; “Fallin’ & Flyin'” and “I Don’t Know” sound as though they’ve been kicking around jukeboxes for some time. Ryan Bingham, who also appears in the film as frontman of Bad’s bowling alley band, performs admirably on a pair of tracks, and Bridges and Farrell are no slouches either. In addition to those well-written, ably-performed originals, Buck Owens, The Louvin Brothers, and a handful of others show up on the soundtrack.
The film stays pretty faithful to Cobb’s work for approximately 107 of its 112 minutes, but the movie’s ending is the polar opposite of the novel’s. There’s an entire storyline featuring Bad’s estranged son that the film drops entirely, probably for time constraints. Other than that, this is an upper-tier book-to-movie transformation. Cooper, in his directorial debut, does a fine job; since Crazy Heart is already generating Oscar buzz, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Several reviews have mentioned that Crazy Heart is simply The Wrestler set to pedal steel. Perhaps, but anyone who loves country music owes it to him or herself to check out Crazy Heart in either format. Because the real love story isn’t between Bad and Jean; it’s between Bad and his music.
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