Mark Reviews Movies

CRAZY HEART

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jack Nation, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall

MPAA Rating: R (for language and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 12/16/09 (limited); 12/25/09 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 25, 2009

Bad Blake is a hitting-60, alcoholic, chain smoking, four-times divorced, stubborn former country star who now headlines at small, local establishments, and no, there is not a punch line to that statement. There is, though, a love interest for Blake in the form of a single mother almost three decades his junior.

That's Crazy Heart in a nutshell, and it goes no deeper than you'd expect from those details listed above.

Whether he's showing Blake binging on whiskey in between puffs from a cigarette but before puking in a trash can in the alley outside the stage or talking with his newfound love about her kid, his inability to take a much-needed favor from his old student, or when he's going to get to see her again before downing some more whiskey while smoking and soon passing out on his bathroom floor, writer/director Scott Cooper seems to only care about the obvious details of Blake's here-and-now life. The movie is as predictable as any of the old clichés about country music and men who write it, although that's mainly because Cooper's script (based on Thomas Cobb's novel) uses so many of them without delving any deeper.

There are a few moments in which the movie breaks away from these tired observations of a man at rock bottom, but Blake seems content being stuck in his rut. That is, of course, until Cooper decides it's finally time for him to do a complete 180 for a reason that's unconvincing because, by that point, we're pretty convinced he's not the type for redemption. Plus, it's difficult to buy into his relationship with the young woman as anything more than the impetus for his eventual salvation.

As Blake, Jeff Bridges is entirely convincing, which is a two-edged sword here. On one hand, we can follow Blake's seemingly final stop in his downward spiral and catch glimpses of some kind of pain underneath, while on the other, we wish Bridges were allowed to let this character do more than merely go through the motions to get him to the other side of his disgrace.

When we first meet Blake, he is preparing for a gig at a local bowling alley, where the owner loves all his old songs but enforces the part of his contract that dictates Blake can't run a bar tab. That's all well and good, though, because Blake is certainly not one to skimp on spending his money on booze.

His manager (Jack Greene) has gotten an offer for Blake to open for Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a big-time star who used to learn guitar from Blake and hasn't looked back until now despite Blake's repeated requests to record a song together, and it takes a hell of a lot of convincing for the washed-up has-been to take the gig. Blake's pigheadedness is unsympathetic here. The two meet at a bar, and Tommy reminisces fondly about his old teacher, tries to explain that he's been under a lot of pressure from the record label not to lay a track with Blake, and assures him that with his newfound fame that won't be an issue for much longer. It's one of the few honest scenes in the movie, with another coming later when Blake tries to reunite with his estranged son, who, wisely, will have nothing of him. 

In spite of Tommy's sincerity, Blake will have none of it, and when Tommy asks if Blake would play a few songs with him during the sold-out concert, Blake just walks off in a huff.

Blake's not one for us to like at this point, though, so I suppose the issue isn't that he's unsympathetic but that his orneriness is awkward and contrary to what Blake has stated he wants: To become famous again and have Tommy help him because the kid owes him one. It's one thing to have vaulting pride but another to write a character whose arrogance keeps him from trying to get exactly what he wants.

Maybe, though, he doesn't want it as much anymore. After all, he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the single mother and music reporter for a local paper, who interviews and maybe falls for him. Maybe it's because she has a bad streak of self-destructive men, or maybe it's because her son needs a (grand)father figure (He does dub Blake a look-alike for Santa Claus at one point). Blake falls for her because she knows about old country/western artists and because she's a major step up from the townies he usually beds.

A story like this can really go one of two ways. Either Blake will heed the doctor's advice (after the fateful event of getting into a car accident, no less) and quit drinking before his liver does him in, or he will continue on the path he seems so set on following from the moment we meet him. Jean is the answer to this question, and since their relationship is mostly a demand of the narrative's arc, it's difficult to accept his quick turnaround.

All the while, Bridges performs Blake as though the character isn't a walking, talking cliché, and that immensely helps in covering up the less earnest parts and making Blake's tough demeanor bearable. Still, Crazy Heart is so stuck in the familiar it could have used a punch line.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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