Sunday, February 14, 2010
Movie review: Crazy Heart
Despite all the critical praise heaped upon director Scott Cooper's new flick, Crazy Heart, I took a healthy dose of skepticism in with me when I trekked down to the Fox Tower Cinema yesterday. After all, the plot line seemed rather trite: a washed-up, middle-aged country singer struggles to muster enough enthusiasm to keep on truckin'. The basic theme of existential crisis brought about by personal failure is ubiquitous in modern cinema. (One need only reach back as far as Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler for an example.) I was at least half-expecting to leave the flick feeling like I had been suckered by the self-congratulatory dross that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences spits out on a regular basis.
But if Shakespeare taught us anything, it is this: narrative art does not require originality of plot or freshness of ideas to succeed. Rather, success or failure rests completely on the shoulders of the story-teller.
The film, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb, tells the tale of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a middle-aged country music singer-songwriter on the downhill side of his career, crisscrossing the American Southwest in his beat up old Bronco (or is it a Blazer?), playing gigs at piano bars and bowling alleys. Blake's woeful state of existence, broke and unloved, is made all the worse by a drinking problem which threatens to kill him.
Blake hasn't had any commercial success in quite a while, even though a protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is at the top of the country music scene performing songs that Blake wrote. (Unrelated side note: the Tommy Sweet character reminded me of my brother, Calee. Unnervingly so.)
At a gig in Santa Fe, a newspaper reporter, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a young woman with a troubled past of her own, seeks out Bad for an interview. Jean has a four-year-old son from a previous "mistake," and is struggling to make a new career for herself as a writer. The two, perhaps sensing their mutual loneliness and isolation, strike up an unlikely romance. (Blake is some thirty years her senior.)
As they forge ahead, Blake must face a decision: is the possibility of another chance at life, no matter how remote and despite all his past failures, worth the effort?
This flick grabbed me, right from the roll of the opening credits on through the last bars of the closing song. Jeff Bridges performance is a tour de force delivered with the subtlety and compassion of a master actor. He is amply supported by a powerful cast, top-to-bottom, including another Robert Duvall cameo (he's been doing a lot of cameos lately, eh?) as Blake's patron Wayne, and Paul Herman as his sharp-tongued, exasperated agent.
Jeff Bridges can actually sing, as the movie soundtrack will attest. It's good, catchy music with meaningful lyrics. "Funny how fallin' feels like flyin' for a little while..." There's a sentiment that every middle-aged man knows quite well. And that, perhaps, is what I find so poignant about the film. Were it not for a very few lucky breaks, my own life could very well have mirrored that of Bad Blake.
I left this flick positively elated and entertained. Again, the storyline is nothing new. But Scott Cooper's deft direction, and the masterful acting dissipated any hesitation I may have had.
I highly recommend this film.