By JP Chapman | January 7, 2010
Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Scott Cooper (screenplay), Thomas Cobb (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell
“The harder the life, the sweeter the song”. I’m not typically one for studio tag-lines, but the aforementioned phrase dedicated to Crazy Heart breaks the mold for me in summing up the tone of Scott Cooper’s directorial debut. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb, Crazy Heart is one of the most honest, and harsh depictions of alcoholism I’ve ever seen on the screen. Behind this depiction, is what should and will be heralded as the performance of Jeff Bridges’ career, and what deserves to put him in contention for a best actor Oscar nomination.
Crazy Heart follows the story of Bad Blake, one of the lingering dinosaurs of the outlaw country movement (as played by Bridges) who most of time has forgotten. Relegated to playing bowling alleys and dive bars amongst minute crowds, Blake’s songs hold more weight than his actual presence does anymore. Traveling the southwest alone in his Silverado, Blake repeats a daily pattern of chain smoking and drinking whisky incessantly, while constantly treading the line of going completely broke. Blake’s lifestyle of drinking till illness or sleep arrives (or both) has alienated him from virtually everyone he’s counted as a loved one in the past, including his former protégé, Tommy Sweet (as depicted by Colin Farrell), who has since eclipsed Blake and achieved a measure of fame never within his reach.
Life for Blake is a selfish never-ending cycle, until he meets single-mother/reporter Jean, as played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jean is different than the other women Blake meets, and gives him the hope that he could finally have a lasting relationship, as well as develop a variation of a father-son relationship with her four year old child. Standing in the way of this though, is Blake’s alcoholism. Crazy Heart follows the journey of Blake coming to terms with who he is and has become, as well as his fight to regain normalcy and forge/repair the relationships in his life.
It is very seldom that an actor is able to completely disappear in a part, blurring the lines between the reality that I know of them and their career, and the character that they’re depicting in this particular film. However; in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges does this to an astounding degree. Down to the point of convincingly singing the country blues songs of Blake, Bridges embodies the man wholly and completely. I am a huge Jeff Bridges fan, and thought I would always fondly know him as “The Dude”. After witnessing his absorption into his part for this film, I will first think of him as Blake from now on. In addition to Bridges’ stellar performance, the performances of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall are all top notch as well (especially Gyllenhaal’s). However; I can’t help but think back to Bridges every time I reminisce of this film. He truly steals the show.
As a story/film, Crazy Heart is well written and interesting. It’s got some messy components wherein you can feel that Scott Cooper is still feeling his way around the camera. But I was shocked to learn that not only is this Cooper’s first film, but also the first filming of ANYTHING he’s been involved with. Learning from watching his favorite films on mute as well as via director commentaries, he taught himself how to do it all. Somehow, in spite of his lack of training, he does an amazing job of capturing the southwest and what life would be like for a touring musician. In the midst of his searching though, there are some pacing problems, as well as a few performances of side characters and dialogue that I felt could have been better. These are extremely minor gripes in the overall picture of the film.
Finally, Crazy Heart can’t be discussed without at least mentioning the music. Scored by Austinite Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett, with songs written by Burnett, Cooper, and Bridges, the film’s music is simply beautiful. T-Bone Burnett and Bridges (re-teaming from their work in The Big Lebowski) are phenomenal together, playing off each other’s strengths, and composing songs that are instantly believable as country classics that would have been played alongside tracks from Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Townes Van Zandt. All this being said, one of the best songs of the movie, is the closing “The Weary Kind” as written by another Austinite, Ryan Bingham. Seek this song out-it deserves to be in contention for an Oscar nomination.
Crazy Heart has its ups and downs, but is a very impressive effort from first time director, Scott Cooper. The biggest take away I have from the movie is that while it is good, Bridges is great. I have an entirely new level of respect and admiration for him as an actor and artist.