Crazy Heart

15 04 2010

Back in March, I was finally rewarded for being one of six straight males nationwide who voluntarily watch the Academy Awards: Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors, took home the award for Best Actor for his role in 2009’s Crazy Heart (directed by rookie Scott Cooper).  Unfortunately, since I hadn’t yet managed to catch the film in theaters, I had to trust the Academy’s judgment.  Having finally seen the film, I’m now in a position to agree.

There are many reasons to be a fan of Jeff Bridges.  He’s been in the acting business for decades, deftly handling a staggering range of roles.  Recently, Bridges has played villain Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, new-age warrior Bill Django in The Men Who Stare at Goats, and businessman Charles Howard in Seabiscuit.  Most of this generation, however, probably best remembers Bridges as The Dude, the iconic protagonist of 1998’s The Big Lebowski.

Yet despite a prodigious list of memorable roles and four Academy Award previous nominations, it took Bridges’ performance in Crazy Heart to win him the Oscar—and for good reason.  Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed-up, burned out cross between Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, minus the success and recognition those musicians have enjoyed.

In his day, Blake was a legend; today, he has been eclipsed by the likes of Tommy Sweet (played by Colin Farrell, who ably projects the modern rock-star country persona).  Blake drives himself from dive bar to bowling alley in a weathered old Chevy Suburban to play one-night engagements in front of the AARP-age crowds that form the last remnants of his fan base.  He’s a broke, overweight, chain-smoking alcoholic with nowhere to go but down—basically everything I hope to be in forty years.

To a fair number of us, Bridges will always be The Dude.  But his performance as Bad Blake is exceptional for its subtlety.   Early in the film, Blake rushes off a humble bowling alley stage during the middle of a song to puke his guts out outside (having consumed a bit too much whiskey), then gets back up on stage and finishes the song.

There are a million reasons to find this sequence of events comical.  But it wasn’t.  In fact, for me at least, it was pretty close to soul crushing.  With any luck, I’ll never hit a point that low over the course of my life.  But thanks to Bridges, I was able to feel like I was there, if only for a moment.  That’s the mark of a great performance, even if it doesn’t jump off the screen at you.

Of course, the pain just makes the eventual redemption more satisfying.  Yes, “redemption” is an overused word, and there’s a good measure of it in Crazy Heart.  But it doesn’t come cheap.  Blake’s romance with younger reporter Jean Craddock (a perpetually alien-looking Maggie Gyllenhaal) is train wreck-like for its inevitability, so we in the audience might as well sit back and enjoy the destruction.

Since this is a film about a country musician’s painful trip up from the depths of despair, there’s going to be a lot of country music in the film.  I’m not enough of a connoisseur to dissect the soundtrack of Crazy Heart, but even if you’re one of those “anything but country” types, you’ll still be able to endure the film.  The singing performances of Bridges and Farrell are respectable, and even Robert Duvall (playing one of Blake’s old friends) manages to warble a few bars.  You might even come away with a sudden desire to download the complete works of Merle Haggard.  Or that could have been me.

Crazy Heart will probably be playing at second-run theaters in the area for a while longer (I caught it at Dollar Movies, located at Briarwood Mall), but it will be released on DVD and Blue Ray April 20.  Whatever your preferred viewing method is, it’s a film worth seeing.

Oh, and one more thing: generally, I hate it when films work the title into the dialogue.  Crazy Heart does this, sort of—but it’s in a song.  So I think we’re cool on that front.

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2 responses

18 04 2010
Min

Graham,

Rent The Men Who Stare at Goats (Clooney, Ewan McGregor & also stars Jeff Bridges). The story begins in Ann Arbor. Watch the features too. I’d like to know what you think about the film and the subject matter.

20 04 2010
Graham Kozak

I happened to see The Men Who Stare at Goats about two or three weeks ago, and was pretty surprised to see that the narrator wrote for a paper (presumably) based off the dearly departed Ann Arbor News.

There were definitely some funny moments, but I thought the film was a bit directionless…the training sequences were probably among the most entertaining bits, for me at least. Though come to think of it, maybe the directionlessness was somehow a part of the commentary…

As far as the subject matter goes, I didn’t end up watching the special features, but I’d heard about the whole Psych-ops/First Earth Battalion thing quite a while ago after some random web surfing. I’ll definitely have to learn more about it; the fact that such research was actually carried out is probably the most amazing part of the story. Perhaps the novel deals with this more extensively?

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