Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by Scott Cooper
Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a Nashville relic, a hard-drinkin’, hard-livin’ mess of a man. He’s also a brilliant singer-songwriter suffering from three years of writer’s block, now relegated to playing dive bars and bowling alleys while his protégé has hit the big time. If Crazy Heart sounds like a country album disguised as a movie, it is — to both good and bad effect.
Blake’s a beloved hero and bona fide star on the small-town circuit, sleeping with middle-aged groupies but barely able to afford a bottle of his preferred liquor. A stop in Santa Fe introduces him to Jane (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring music journalist who falls for his poetry and grizzled charm. The requisite “love of a good woman” story unfolds with just enough variation to keep up the momentum as Blake struggles to atone for his mistakes. These include alcoholism, abandoning his son, and pissing away his promising career. Together, they almost choke the movie with country-fried clichés.
But a rambling script can’t keep a good cast down. Gyllenhaal creates a genuine, believable spark with Bridges despite a 20-year age gap. And Blake’s frenemy, a newly-minted country star named Tommy Sweet, is a tasty bit of stunt casting. (It’s this particular actor’s best performance in years, and the surprise was a pleasant one, so we’ll keep his identity under wraps.)
The songs, mostly written by T-Bone Burnett, sound like old-school country gems, and Bridges makes every refrain resonate with his scratchy timbre. Audiences will smell each whiskey-soaked breath and feel every roughly calloused fingertip as Bridges sinks deep inside Bad Blake’s bones. It’s a performance so finely crafted and sympathetic that every screw-up deals a devastating, visceral blow. Ultimately one man and his music elevate Crazy Heart above standard-issue redemption fare. ★★★—Andrea Warner