Movie Review: Crazy Heart (2009)

Fab musical story, great acting by Bridges __ 9/10
Review by Brian Wright

Crazy Heart

Bad Blake (to Jane Craddock): I wanna talk about how bad you make this room look. I never knew what a dump it was until you came in here.

When you go by IMDb for your raw material for movie reviews, usually you get the best quotes. Only with Crazy Heart, only being out for a couple of weeks now, whoever actually sits down and transcribes those quotes hasn’t done too many. And the ones he or she has written down are on the lame side. Which is really too bad, because Mr. Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) as he’s called is one walkin’, talkin’ quote machine… and brings out pithy words from most of the regular folks he gets together with, too.

Directed by Scott Cooper
Book by Thomas Cobb
Screenplay by Scott Cooper

Jeff Bridges … Bad Blake
Maggie Gyllenhaal … Jane Craddock
Colin Farrell … Tommy Sweet
James Keane … Manager
Tom Bower … Bill Wilson
Robert Duvall … Wayne

And these are definitely regular folks, in the tradition of Tender Mercies and, say, Honeysuckle Rose, and a fair number of other movies that may more closely resemble Crazy Heart that I can’t think of immediately.

From the gitgo we see that Bad has a problem with hard liquor—he seems to have a special fondness for a cheap whiskey I cannot find on the Web, McClure’s (?)—and romantic attachments… unless you consider one-night stands with 40-something groupies after bowling alley gigs romantic attachments. Plus, he’s a vanishing breed in general: a country-music acoustic guitarist and singer who writes his own stuff and eschews the stadium-rock-country-multimedia-phantasmagoria in favor of more intimate club venues. He also writes—or used to write—songs. The Bad Blake character reminds me of a combination of Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings.

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Bad was Big as you can be 20 years ago, but he ain’t primetime no more.

— Beginning of ‘spoiler’ of first few scenes of film —

The intro scenes are grimly comical and character-telling: Blake is booked by his agent at a bowling alley bar somewhere in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, or Nevada), where most of his road shows take place. Bad drives himself to all his gigs now, alone, in a beatup old station wagon that he’s given a name. When he arrives at this site, the owner-manager, a huge fan of Blake, ushers him in and points him to the motel across the street where Bad will be staying. The singer engagingly breezes straight to the bowling-alley bar and orders a call-branded double whiskey, thinking his bar tab will certainly be comped. Wrong!

When the barmaid announces the bill, Bad protests, then finds out his agent has negotiated with the establishment that the establishment will not be paying for any of Blake’s copious liquor consumption. The idea being to hopefully keep him sober enough to complete his performances with some amount of competence so people won’t demand their money back. Bad is basically flat broke, he’s living from gig to gig and spending most of his money on the hooch. He pulls a couple of his remaining bills from his pocket, slaps them on the bar, and walks to a nearby drug store.

It happens the owner of the store is a huge fan, as well, and—after some hemming and hawing and finagling by Blake, who really doesn’t have any money at all now—gives Blake a fifth of Blake’s favorite medicine… with the understanding that Bad will play one of his classics tonight for the store owner and his wife. Blake says sure. The rest of the afternoon we follow Blake polishing off the bottle in his dingy room, while occasionally strumming the guitar. He passes out just before his young support band comes knocking on the door wanting to rehearse.

The kids are also big fans, in awe of the legendary country star. I recall that Bad scores another pint from these guys, saying he’ll be over to the stage after he cleans up, in plenty of time to get the sharps and flats right in preparation. Not! A fair crowd gathers in the bar that night, the young band members do their best to cover for the missing Blake, then finally the sweaty, disheveled star stumbles onto the stage, but with a flourish, and that special Bad Blake style of sound that his admirers still come from far and wide to hear.

As a movie-watcher, you will love this style of sound.

You have to give the ones responsible for the score of this movie, not to mention Bridges and the other musicians major thumbs up for aural excellence.[1] But like the audiences in the movie, we are disappointed by the brevity of these flashes of musical genius. Blake is good for maybe three songs—still the perfect charmer, he does remember to play the request for the liquor store owner—then it’s off stage for a break. Tonight his break includes tossing his cookies into a garbage container and an accompanying agonizing shame spiral. But like a prize fighter who refuses to be knocked out, he comes back for one more combination. Then, done.

— End of ‘spoiler’ of first few scenes of film —

Clearly what we are watching here are the guiles and banter adopted by victims of a horrible addiction, so that they may continue to pull the lever for the magic poison pill that’s slowly killing them. Bad Blake is a legend with a capital L, and a funny, genuine, thoughtful, intelligent, caring, even charismatic person. But when you cut through all the Sturm und Drang (storm and fury) and abundance of personality, he is sick with a capital S.

Next city, enter the cool hot chick: Jane Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

And, eventually, her (four-five-or-six-year-old) son Buddy (Jack Nation), with whom Bad forms an instant bond. Yes, this hookup between Jane and Bad is one for the books. Kudos to both the actors for making the relationship poignant and compelling… from both sides. It’s Jeff Bridges’ movie, but without Gyllenhaal’s complementary mixture of longing, and needing, and bright inspiration, Crazy Heart would not have the necessary drama to make it one of the biggest movies of 2009. And Bridges, IMHO, would not have won his first Oscar.

Also a member of the Bad Blake fan club, Jane is assigned to interview the legendary singer for a New Mexico magazine. Blake is immediately taken with Jane. Though she resists initially and is all too aware of the alcoholism, he is the one and only Bad Blake. And he opens up to her, as no other. The question naturally is whether the love of a good woman will make things right for Bad Blake, or whether Bad Blake will become Good Blake and make things right for her. She’s had a couple of, well, guys with drinking problems, among other issues.

So, majorly good stuff. There are additional interesting and plot/character-connected relationships with a protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), and with a best friend from the old days, Wayne (Robert Duvall), who took the alcohol cure years ago. The plot and the rich experience of the music work wonderfully together; the soundtrack is definitely worth acquiring.

[1] The movie won an Academy Award for Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song—”The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett.

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