Despite the fact that every song features a woman kicking her man to the kerb and running off with their dog, the country and western genre is still a staple musical diet for many an American. It’s hardly surprising then that it has its own mini genre in the world of cinema. This latest addition to that collection is a small budgeted affair that at one point looked likely to be a straight-to-video title. Considering its overly familiar story, it would have been completely understandable.
At 57 years old, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a country singer who finds himself at the later stages of his musical career with little to show for it. And even though he used to be a fairly big name back in the day, he now finds himself playing to a handful of folk in venues like the back room of bowling alleys in the middle of nowhere. His worst fans are his liver and lungs, who he has made to suffer over the years with his alcoholism and tobacco abuse.
In yet another small town, in an even smaller venue, Blake meets journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is keen to interview him for her paper. Despite their obvious age difference, the pair spark up a relationship. With Jean also being a one parent family with a young son, Blake finds comfort in a family scenario that he’s missed out on in his life.
As well a blossoming romance, Blake’s path also crosses with his young protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), who has now hit the big time, playing to huge arenas. Sweet gets Blake to support him at one of his gigs; it goes so well that there’s an offer of more work to come Blake’s way if he wants it. But with a chance of making positive changes in his life, Blake is faced by his old habits and is confronted with how hard they are to die.
Add to the mix some authentic country and western tunes and you have yourself a pretty formulaic tale of a down on his luck singer with a possible redemptive silver lining on the western landscape horizon.
Clearly what saves the film is the absorbing, Oscar-winning performance by Bridges. Arguably the Academy gave it to him as an almost honorary award to cover his outstanding career, which may or may not have been the case, but it shouldn’t detract from the fact that he whole-heartily deserved it for his role as Blake. He could have easily pushed the part into the darker realms of fiction, but thankfully decided instead to root the character into an honest world. It may not be as dramatic as it could have been, but kudos to Bridges for anchoring Blake with an earthy and truthful portrayal.
It’s just a shame that neither the story nor the script couldn’t have been more original. The ironic thing is that Robert Duvall, who not only produced the film but also has a small role in it, starred in 1983’s Tender Mercies which was about an alcoholic country singer who gets the opportunity to turn his life around when he meets a woman with a son. Rather spookily Duvall also won the Oscar for best actor for his performance.
The fact that the film has also been compared to The Wrestler, although understandable, is also a little unfair. Crazy Heart is the debut feature by Scott Cooper, who also wrote the script, and his lack of experience – particularly when compared with calibre of someone like The Wrestler’s Darren Aronofsky – is obvious. Without Bridges pouring his heart into the role, Cooper truly would have been left with a straight-to-video effort.
Thankfully for him however, Bridges delivers the kind of performance that can paper over the obvious cracks in the script and carry an average story on his experienced shoulders. And as an added bonus, he’s pretty good at carrying a country tune to boot.
There really is only one reason to see this film, but being that would be to see an often underrated actor on the top of his game, it’s all the reason you need.