Crazy Heart mixes country charm with a feel-good storyline that stands out from many of Jeff Bridges’ other performances (yes, even in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski). As an unlikely and enchanting anti-hero, there is no doubt that Bridges is deserving of his recent Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. As an actor and musician himself, newbie director Scott Cooper has placed himself into “the one to watch” category, after writing and directing Crazy Heart with lush Southern storytelling.
While sipping cheap whiskey to ease his lonely journey on the road, Bridges portrays Bad Blake, a has-been country star with a fleeting gig lineup. After four divorces, ongoing alcoholism, and too many one-nighters, Blake has “never missed a show in his whole fucking life” and continues to howl his anguish at the world through his music. At a performance in a Santa Fe bar he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a local newspaper reporter and eventual heart-mender. Although the relationship between Blake and Jean feels slightly awkward due to their age difference, Jean’s soft-spoken and alluring individuality supports Blake’s search for redemption and fittingly reveals his true, compassionate self. Gyllenhaal delivers a stellar performance as a single mother who’s had her fair share of hard times. Although some clichés are subtly slipped into the story, Gyllenhaal adds integrity despite Jean’s predictable ability to see through Blake’s rugged beard, open fly, and unruly appearance into his weary but crazy heart.
Cooper’s ability to round up a talented and genuine group of people to play refreshing roles sets this film apart. Special mention goes out to Colin Farrell as Tommy Sweet, the up-and-coming young country hunk who owes Blake everything for influencing him and guiding him to stardom. It’s interesting to see Farrell smoothly execute a role that seems, at least at first, beyond his capability. Robert Duvall is commendable as well, playing Blake’s best friend and confidant, as he provides both wisdom (in terms of smoking, drinking, and women, of course) and an extra Southern spice to the scene.
Parallel to Bridges’ acting performance is the late Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett’s solid line up of heart-filled songs representing the chords of Blake’s rocky road life. A few classic country songs are included in the film for those devoted country music fans, mixed in with original ballads. It is the memorable soundtrack of Crazy Heart that not only creates the foundation for Blake’s unforgettable character, but also stands alone from the plot, offering remarkable country tunes. “The Weary Kind,” the song that Blake eventually writes for Sweet (after a long hiatus from song-writing) is both original and passionate, and plays a momentous role in the story. Bridges adds an undeniably romantic element in his singing, leaving the viewer with a need to understand how a man so beaten up can be so brilliant. It must be the crazy heart.