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Crazy Heart

In “Crazy Heart”, Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, an aging country singer-songwriter who
spots a chance to redeem himself for everything he’s blown in his life when he falls in love
with a young reporter and single mother (Maggie Gyllenhal).   Blake is in the old-school
outlaw tradition; he has the kind of fame where he is appreciated by people who know
something about music but largely unknown to the mass audience that adores pretty
country-pop stars like his estranged one-time protege (Colin Farrell).   Maggie knows
“real” country music, sees its rough, ragged soulfulness etched into Bad’s face.    

In some ways the movie is an elegy to the gin ‘n’ sin lifestyle.   Many years of it have left
Blake a semi-functional old wreck just like the beloved pickup he drives from joint to joint,
playing bowling alleys, crashing in his hotel room to load up before performances, only to
rush offstage to puke partway through.   When a doctor tells him he needs to give up the
sauce, he doesn’t listen: someone from the straight world wouldn’t understand.   The
sadness of the film is, of course, that he only acknowledges his alcoholism after he’s done
something while drunk that ends his chance of being with Maggie and her little boy.   It’s a
conundrum neatly encapsulated in a line from the chorus to one of his songs: “Funny how
falling feels like flying…for a little while”.    

Bridges’ acting is as natural as the great wide-open spaces of the west that are
beautifully photographed.   The songs, written by T. Bone Burnett, who understands
traditional American music as well as anyone alive, are good.   Bridges sings some of them
himself, strumming his guitar, softly teasing out a new song.   After he’s kicked the bottle,
we see him on-stage, clearly invested in his performance: after many years of not giving a
toss, he is once again handling the music with care, playing as if his is a legacy worth

Sometimes when I’m listening to a country song, the music is so full of feeling that I have
no choice but to tilt my head to the side.   There are some moments in “Crazy Heart” that
hit that blue note.   I think of Robert Duvall, playing Bad’s older friend, suddenly breaking
out into a ballad as they loll in their fishing boat.   We know we’re in a part of the country
where men of few words use music to express what’s in their souls.  

Rating: ****

Key to ratings:

***** (essential viewing)
**** (excellent)
*** (worth a look)
** (forgettable)
* (rubbish!!)

- Feb 5, 2010

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