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Jeff Bridges & Maggie Gyllenhaal in CRAZY HEART (Photo: Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchligh Pictures)

Written & Directed by Scott Cooper, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb
Produced by
Cooper, Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner, Judy Cairo & T Bone Burnett
Released by Fox Searchlight
USA. 111 min. Rated R
Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Tom Bower, James Keane & Colin Farrell 

Another awards season, another tale of middle-age redemption: A self-medicated D-list celebrity, professionally on the skids and cut off from his family, is given the chance to start over again by learning from his past mistakes through the love of a good woman.

Crazy Heart shares the empathetic and modest goals of last year’s grittier and harsher The Wrestler, starring a reenergized Mickey Rourke, but Crazy Heart’s central performance is less a revelation than a confirmation. Though it’s his best and most challenging role since 2004’s The Door in the Floor, star Jeff Bridges has long been respected (nominated for an Oscar three times). He recently energized the anemic comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, so given his track record, it’s not surprising that he’s consistently charming here, or that he clearly relishes the opportunity to abandon all concepts of vanity by flaunting his pot belly and his grizzled good looks. There are not many actors who exude such an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude without alienating the audience, and no matter how hungover his character is or how much he lies to himself and others, he knows the joke’s on him: “I used to be somebody, and now I’m somebody else.”

Indeed, the script brings the lower-rung 57-year-old country/western songwriter Bad Blake (who more than lives up to his name) down to his knees. Realizing that his lead actor’s performance would hold the film together, director Scott Cooper films Bad close up, as he passes out, landing with a thud on a roadside motel bed, or as he kneels in front of the toilet retching. Cooper unflinchingly basks in Bad’s dishevelment; he usually appears in a scene with both his shirt and pants undone. However, while the film meticulously follows Bad hitting rock bottom, it gives short shift, in comparison, to his renewal.

There won’t be any head scratching or debate about the ending, as there was for The Wrestler. What the film lacks in nuance is made up for in a performance that dispenses with subtly yet never overwhelms the film’s direct and sincere tone. The pitch-perfect score by Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett gives Bridges instant credibility of a singer/songwriter playing to a graying but devoted following in the small clubs on the Southwest circuit. (Most of the film was filmed in New Mexico—the open-road vistas of the mountains and mesas tend to undercut the melancholy). The film’s only surprise lies in the performance of the uncredited Colin Farrell as Bad’s former protégé, superstar Tommy Sweet. This is the most at ease Farrell has been in an American role. He, like Bridges, is completely convincing as a musical performer.

For the most part, the script is as thorough and by the book, including the rote romance between Bad and Santa Fe-based reporter Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is nearly 30 years younger. Even if one can get past the ick factor of Jean involved with a man who’s seen better days, her reluctance to even glance at the warning signs will raise questions the film ignores, especially considering that Jean, a responsible, attentive single mother to a five-year-old boy, seems too thoughtful, too grounded to become involved with such a train wreck. She first meets Bad for an interview for the local newspaperthe second of which takes place over drinks in his hotel room. As an actress, Gyllenhaal is too sincere to play an impulsive groupie or a rash optimist. Even Bad, at his most intoxicated, is more self-aware. Kent Turner
December 18, 2009



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