In Theaters: Crazy Heart
A quiet, conventional film with a surprisingly firm grip, writer/director Scott Cobb's Crazy Heart will choke you up the same way it kept you hanging in over its shaggy, two-hour shuffle: effortlessly. Much of the credit for its appeal goes to the performance of the congenitally appealing Jeff Bridges as a fading country singer/songwriter known as Bad Blake. If the character of a dissolute, downtrodden quasi-celebrity is a rite of passage for leading men of a certain age (Mickey Rourke picked up the baton last year), Bridges acknowledges the inevitability and exceeds expectations with his typically self-effacing grace. The result is a performance that makes the hackneyed feel new, natural, and almost private; it has a lived-in ease that puts an audience only too familiar with the film's trajectory (and perhaps primed to count off the clichés) on notice and off-guard.
Bad Blake has got a few good habits and a whack of really bad ones. A country singer with a once-promising career, at age 57 he's humping around the country, playing a different bar, club or bowling alley every night. A performer with a deeply ingrained (if somewhat distorted) sense of professionalism, Bad (as his friends and middle-aged groupies call him) shows up on time, even if he has to blow off a rest stop and pee in a bottle to do so. It's what happens when he stops moving that's the problem: arriving in Clovis, New Mexico to play to a handful of admirers, Bad immediately makes a play for free drinks, hitting the jackpot at the local liquor store and giving his motel room a pre-show, David Hasselhoff do-over.
Bridges, capable of reaching the higher registers of peevishness with his warmly expressive voice, here settles in the gravelly nadir of Nick Nolte on a pack a day. Taking us to the pukey depths of barely functional alcoholism during his greatest hits performance (which sounds, honestly, like playing bowling alleys is pretty much the right call) Bad on a bender seems both completely perilous and par for the course. His fans and his bandmates, eager for whatever spark of greatness he is still able to give off, politely ignore his mid-song break to go barf in the alley.
It's not until a local journalist named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) arrives to interview Bad that some measure of the man is summoned to peek through the persona. When she barges in on him in nothing but a towel, Bad is mortified despite the fact that we've already seen him dump his urine in a parking lot and play to a crowd with vomit on his shirt. A deeply eroded ego is a highly textured thing, and Bridges gives the vestiges of Bad's southern breeding a touching, uncalculated charm. Mostly he tolerates Jean's fangirl prodding, and as Gyllenhaal lets her voice inflate to babyish heights, we realize she sees what we cannot (yet): a true talent. Bad ends their first interview after Jean's queries about two subjects he'd rather not discuss -- a young hotshot named Tommy Sweet, with whom Bad shares history as a mentor, and his relationship with his children -- and Jean ends their second when Bad makes the inevitable boozy pass.
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