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2009 Catch-Up: Josh Reviews Crazy Heart

Last week I wrote about Moon, one of the 2009 films that I hasn’t succeeded in catching before the switch-over to the Year We Make Contact.  Today I’m here to write about another 2009 film that I’m glad I found a chance to see before getting too far into 2010: Crazy Heart.

Jeff Bridges plays “Bad” Blake, a once-great country singer who, through a combination of bad luck and his own hard-living, has been reduced to singing in bowling alleys.  Bad is a pretty pathetic figure when we first encounter him in the film, pulling up to his latest small-town gig in his battered old pick-up truck and dumping out a jug full of his urine.  But drunk and washed-up though he may be, when he starts to perform we can see the embers of his greatness.  Until he has to run outside to puke, that is.

It’s not too hard to guess that, over the course of the film, Bad will be able to claw his way up to some small form of redemption.  But the pleasures of Crazy Heart aren’t in any big dramatic plot twists or emotional epiphanies.  They’re in the way that, through a million small choices, Jeff Bridges brings this broken-down man to fully-realized life.  Bad isn’t really a cliched scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold.  He makes a lot of poor choices, and we see him fully live up to the name he has taken for himself.  But Mr. Bridges brings such humanity to the performance that one somehow can’t help rooting for Bad nonetheless.  Can anyone deny that Jeff Bridges is one of our finest actors working today?

Maggie Gyllenhaal is solid, as she always is.  But I was really pleasantly surprised by Colin Farrell’s excellent work as Bad’s former protege Tommy Sweet.  It’s a very well-written part.  Tommy is talked about a lot in the film before we ever see him on-screen.  While Bad has hit hard times, Tommy has become a country music super-star.  I was expecting fireworks when these two finally met up in the film, but I was really pleased that the film went in another direction.  There’s friction between the two, but also reservoirs of affection.  I was quite taken with Mr. Farrell’s work, giving Tommy the arrogance one might expect of an on-the-rise mega-talent, but also a deep core of loyalty to his former mentor.  I’ve always been a big fan of Colin Farrell (I even love him in Daredevil!), and between this and his role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (read my review here), it’s nice to see him getting some decent roles these days.

Crazy Heart has a heck of a soundtrack, featuring an array of classic tunes by Waylon Jennings, Lucinda Williams, Buck Owens, and many more, along with a number of new songs written specifically for the film (such as Ryan Bingham’s song “The Weary Kind”).  Both Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell do a lot of singing in the film, and they both acquit themselves rather well.

In his review of the film for the New York Times, A.O. Scott noted the strong resemblance between Crazy Heart and the 1983 film Tender Mercies, a resemblance only enhanced when Robert Duvall (who starred in Tender Mercies) makes an appearance in Crazy Heart late in the film.  My parents made the same observation.  I haven’t seen Tender Mercies (though I added it to my Netflix queue after seeing this film), so I can’t comment for myself.  But I tend to agree with Mr. Scott, who wrote: “There can never be too many songs about drinking, loving and feeling bad, and there is always room for another version of that old song about the guy who messed it all up and kept on going. Especially when that guy can play the tune as truly and as well as Mr. Bridges.”  Well said.

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