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Movie Review: Crazy Heart

January 22, 2010

I’m a sucker for movies about country singers.  Despite the fact that listening to country music makes my ears bleed, I never pass up on a good country drama. The genre traditionally leans toward biopics (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sweet Dreams, Pure Country, Walk the Line),  and Crazy Heart is no exception.

Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed up Country/Blues musician who has been relegated to performing in bowling alleys and other undignified venues.  Blake is a raging alcoholic who stumbles off the stage mid-performance to go puke, then returns to finish a set.  He drives his pick-up from town to town and beds middle age women who still remember him from his golden days.  He tersely thrusts his show notes to whatever band he happens to be playing with that night, and  can’t be bothered to rehearse. It’s a gamble as to whether he will even show up on a given night, and to what condition he’ll be in.

To make matters worse, his former protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), has become a country music superstar, and regularly plays to packed stadiums.  There is clearly some bad blood between the two, because anytime Sweet’s name is brought up, Blake bristles.

One night a piano player at a bar he is to perform in asks Blake if his niece, who is a writer, could possibly interview the musician.  Blake is initially recalcitrant, but agrees. He is sprawled out on his motel couch when Jean (played by Maggie Gyllenhal) shows up for the interview. Flustered, he quickly throws on some clothes, and Jean tries to conduct an interview of sorts.  It’s quite awkward, because all the while Blake is positively leering at her.

Jean does little to keep the interview professional, she flirts suggestively and teases him endlessly.  The two quickly embark on an affair. Jean is a single mom with a four year-old that Blake immediately bonds with.  For a while, it seems that Jean is just the sort of medicine Blake needs to heal his fractured life.  He starts making amends with his past, and begins to take  his career seriously again.

Consequently, some good things start coming his way. However, Blake is a deeply flawed man, and the third act sees him spiral into self destruction, and ultimately, redemption.

This is a deliberately paced character study, but it is quite satisfying.  Jeff Bridges is impeccably cast as Blake, and his recent Golden Globe award is well deserved.   It is not a very flattering role, and it appears that  Bridges gained some girth to portray the sweaty, boozing performer. The end result is a very natural and believable performance. Bridges also sings a few songs from the film.

Robert Duvall (who played a washed out country singer himself in Tender Mercies) is warm and feels comfortable as a bar owner who is Blake’s best friend and confidante.

As for Gyllenhal, she doesn’t fit into the movie as well.  Gyllenhal is 33 in real-life, but looked too young for this role. Her character should look a little wisened and fatigued, based on her background, while  Gyllenhal  could pass for being in college. I also didn’t buy that Blake would fall so hard so quickly for this rather uninteresting and average looking person.  He still has women throwing themselves at him every night, why is she so compelling?

Then there are some problems I had with Jean’s character.  What sort of devoted mom brings a strange man home to her child right after she hooks up with him?  She continuously cites her son as the most important thing in her life, yet she makes some really stupid decisions regarding his welfare.

Colin Farrell’s casting also struck me as odd. He is supposed to play one of the “new” country stars who have ponytails and earrings, but he didn’t fit the role.  The film could  have been better served by casting a real country star.

These issues are rather minor, though.  First time director Scott Cooper (who also adapted the book by Thomas Cobb, and produced the movie) delivers a solid biopic that will probably earn Bridges an Oscar nod.

*Crazy Heart features original music from T Bone Burnett, who just picked up a Golden Globe for the song “The Weary Kind.”

Rating 4/5


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