Friday, February 12, 2010

Crazy Heart (2009)

What’s great about Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart isn’t it’s ability to adhere to Oscar bate status quo, what with it’s over-the-hill Hollywood stalwart (this time a gainful Jeff Bridges) embracing his aging actor’s body, or it’s just-this-side-of-happy ending. Heck, swap out one entertainment icon for another, slap some spandex on Bridges and you’ve got The Wrestler (2008). No, what’s outstanding in Cooper’s film is its ability to find itself – to, like the character central to the story, live warmly and comfortably in an embraced understanding of what it is, not what it could or would be. To put it plainly – the film is true to itself, and stumbles upon magic in so being.

Bridges’ Bad Blake is the heart of the show, a broken down country legend now drinking his way along a grueling heartland tour of bars and bowling alleys. He can’t write anymore, can’t be relevant. Heck, sometimes he can barely stand up. For all intents and purposes, whatever his life was has gone the way of the waste.

Enter Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Jean, a kindly local reporter looking for a legend in his story. Though 30 years his younger, sparks fly, and Blake begins the long and hard road to only even finding meaning for redemption.

His story, though, isn’t a love story, and it certainly isn’t a fairy tale. He’s an alcoholic, she’s a single mother too often drawn to the wrong kinda guy. As such, Cooper never forces the duo into anything really resembling a stable relationship. He asks only for them to exist, and occasionally together.

The same is asked of Collin Farrell as Bad’s protégé Tommy Sweet, and Robert Duvall (who also co-produced) as his only real friend Wayne. Both feel distant and yet warm to Bad, as if damaged by drama long past and unspoken of, weathered, endured and moved on from. It all adds to the authenticity of Bad’s world, and of his story.

Bridges, of course, is charismatically and endearingly powerful in a way that you’d only expect an actor of his place and time to be. His is a performance akin to Mickey Rourke’s in The Wrestler, dripping with relevant award tangibility. Accept Bridges is an actor’s actor, a man of the people, and someone to cheer for. As such, he’ll most likely be clutching Oscar gold next month.
Gyllenhaal is the real surprise, sweet and charming and likeable in a rare, salt of the earth kind of way. It’s odd, at times, to see her entangled with a man twice her age. Some might find it unsettlingly unrealistic, she not being a gold digger, and him not having any to offer anyway. But Crazy Heart isn’t all too concerned with what passes for realistic in the pop culture world. It’s intent on studying the messy, sloppy and fascinating “real” lurking in the deserts, in the notes of the music, and in the air outside your door.

Through it all is the music, crooned admirably by Bridges, Farrell and country artist Ryan Bingham, and composed by the likes of producer T-Bone Burnett. This is a film in love with the music and the people behind it, and expresses itself as love song to both. It stole me by being that, and by adhering to a classic rock adage – you don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find…you get what you need.

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