Crazy Heart

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 02/06/10 14:16:46

"Bridges is the movie, as he so often is."
3 stars (Just Average)

Suddenly, everyone has noticed how great Jeff Bridges is, though he’s been great for about four decades now.

It took an Oscar-chasing role tailored for Bridges to win him this belated respect; the movie itself, Crazy Heart, is hardly worthy of him (and of T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, who wrote some fine songs). Bridges is Bad Blake, a broken-down country singer coughing and grumbling his way through a tour of rural bars and bowling alleys. We’ve seen the type before, in Payday (Rip Torn) and Tender Mercies (Robert Duvall, who also appears here as a bartender) among others. Bridges could play Bad in his sleep, but he doesn’t; he brings every ounce of his charm, intelligence, and vulnerability to a thinly written character.

Writer-director Scott Cooper has fashioned Crazy Heart as a valentine to Bridges and everything he does best, but it’s not much of a movie; it’s practically free of conflict or drama. Sometimes Cooper turns clichés on their heads: Bad’s protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), who has gone on to become a superstar, still loves ol’ Bad and wants to help him get his career back on track. I guess we’ve seen the reverse — Tommy as an ungrateful jerk who shuns his former mentor — too many times (as in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which even had Hedwig touring through various Bilgewater’s restaurants — and it was funnier then). Here, though, Tommy comes off as a deus ex machina, a moneybags who can do for Bad what Bad can’t or won’t do for himself.

Bad takes a few uneasy shuffles onto the road to redemption when he meets music reporter Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and falls for her. As written, there’s little reason for him to do so; Gyllenhaal’s own intelligence and warmth help put it over, but just barely. Bad also hits it off with Jean’s little boy, and he tastes the domestic comfort he missed when he abandoned his own son almost thirty years ago. But then something happens that seems swiped from Nobody’s Fool, in which Paul Newman got in trouble for forgetting his grandson out in the cold for a few minutes. Nothing particularly terrible comes of this plot development, yet Bad has to suffer and atone for it anyway.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the type of blues-tinged country music Bad favors is awash in misery, awful luck, tragic endings. Crazy Heart might be consciously going against that grain. But it lacks the power of something like The Wrestler, in which Mickey Rourke’s self-destructive streak wasn’t just a streak — it was his identity. There never seems to be much at stake for Bad, and the film’s leisurely style and pace allow us to fill in what’s missing. Everyone loves Bad and wants him to do well; Bad hates himself because his whole life was about the music until the music stopped paying his bills. People keep telling him what a legend he is; Tommy is after him to write some new songs. From what we can see, Bad is just a garden-variety screw-up without the depth to make his struggles iconic or compelling. Bridges sure plays the hell out of it, though. The role has been handed to him on a plate, a bastard who doesn’t actually do much to be a bastard. If you’re a fan, you’ve seen him this good or better many times before.

Increasingly, Oscars are doled out not for a particular deserving job of work but as a “sorry we didn’t recognize you before” clap on the back; see Martin Scorsese’s undeserved director win for "The Departed," when he should’ve won several times before. It looks likely that Bridges will be honored for "Crazy Heart," and I’m fine with this terrific actor finally owning an Oscar. But for this?

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