Movie Review: Crazy Heart

February 14, 2010

BY DAVID CONGALTON

You have seen this movie before. Many times. In some ways, “Crazy Heart” is the cinematic twin of last year’s “The Wrestler.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—aging former wrestling/country music legend hits rock bottom and seeks redemption and past glory, assisted by a younger woman with a heart of gold, in overcoming his personal demons (Oh, and to possibly reconcile with the estranged son/daughter he’s ignored all this time).

Yes, “Crazy Heart” is formulaic, but actor Jeff Bridges makes it memorable. In washed-up country singer Bad Blake, Bridges has finally found the movie role that will undoubtedly propel him out of the audience and on to the stage come Academy Award night. He has won every other major acting award this season, and deservedly so. Bridges has been one of Hollywood’s most ignored, taken-for-granted, actors in the years since he burst on to the screen in the classic “Last Picture Show.”  His time has come.

Credit goes to first-time director and writer Scott Cooper for enticing Bridges to take a chance in this low-budget, independent project. Whatever reluctance Bridges might have had initially towards the neophyte director must have vanished as he flipped through the pages and saw the character he was being offered.

Bridges appears in every scene. He is this movie. How much you will be drawn to “Crazy Heart” probably is equal to (A) your love of country music—there’s a ton of it on the soundtrack, and (B) your ability to care for a protagonist who apparently stopped caring for himself long ago. Bad Blake is rarely without a drink or a cigarette in his hand (in fact, I think you have to go back to Elliot Gould in “The Long Goodbye” to find a movie character lighting up more cigarettes).

Acting kudos also go to Robert Duvall (in a surprisingly minor role near the end), Colin Farrell (playing, if you can believe it, a country superstar), and especially Maggie Gyllenhaal as a Santa Fe journalist who ends up getting involved with her subject. It’s a nice ensemble, but make no mistake. The movie belongs to Bridges.

Cooper does a nice job in the opening half of “Crazy Heart,” giving us a chance to see Bad Blake survive in the bowling alleys and small town honkey tonks he’s been consigned to. There’s some nice character development here. The cinematography captures the Southwestern landscape lovingly. The music by T-Bone Burnett is likely to spark brisk movie soundtrack sales and downloads.

Still, though I admired the journey of Bad Blake, I would not have objected if it had been a little less than the two hour running time of the movie. Fifteen minutes could have easily been chopped out without us losing the flavor of the story. The second half of “Crazy Heart’ seems a bit more forced as we must have some kind of obligatory personal crisis to set Blake on his path to redemption. Personally, I prefer the ending of “The Wrestler,” where things were just a bit more murky, to “Crazy Heart” where things are wrapped up a bit too neatly as the credits roll.

OK script. Memorable acting. Great music. There’s more than enough here to recommend “Crazy Heart.” Go see Jeff Bridges at the top of his game.

“Crazy Heart” plays locally at the Fair Oaks Theater in Arroyo Grande and the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo.