As everyone who’s not been living under a rock for the last 2 months will know, Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his performance as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, finally attaining the highest acting prize at the fifth time of asking. The film, directed by Scott Cooper and also starring Robert Duvall and the always lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal (best looking siblings ever? Discuss), follows Bad through the latest part of his career, which as he tells us isn’t going all that well: “I’m 58 years old, I’m broke”. Once a country and western legend, Bad is now an alcoholic, chain-smoking burnout who plays at bowling alleys to tiny crowds. After meeting Gyllenhaal’s reporter Jean Craddock at such a show, the pair strike up an unlikely relationship and Bad bonds with Jean’s son Buddy. Will Bad stop being Bad or continue on his road to destruction? This is the central question in Crazy Heart.
And speaking of things central to Cooper’s film, it would be irresponsible not to talk about its star. Bridges is on absolutely brilliant form, completely embodying the role of Bad whether soulfully singing about his pain, throwing up in a bin or trying to be a role model for young Buddy. It’s a classic Oscar-baiting part – a down-and-out tries to come good – but Bridges delivers a performance light on melodrama and ostentation. Rather than overblowing the character, his Bad is formed of tiny idiosyncrasies which speak volumes: lighting his next cigarette off the one he’s just finished, emptying the pee can he carries in his battered pickup, lying flat on Jean’s bed to compose ‘The Weary Kind’, the film’s central song. Oscar-worthy? Definitely.
Crazy Heart is, without a doubt, all about Bridges. However, whilst his character arc is fairly predictable and the entire movie revolves around him, the sights and sounds that surround him in the film are lovingly rendered. The soundtrack, largely composed by T-Bone Burnett, is tremendous, and if Bridges is the film’s heart, the bluesy country music that makes up the movie’s score is certainly its blood. At points emotionally evocative and tremendously atmospheric, the score is one of the best of recent times, capturing the feel of the Deep South, and the music which drives Bad’s life, perfectly.
Cooper’s direction is also very accomplished, with soaring helicopter shots of Bad’s pickup showing off the gloriously untouched landscapes of the Southern plains set against the glistening portrayal of downtown Houston, all steel and glass instead of the desert and scrub which makes up the gaps between Texas and Arizona metropolises. The shots of Bad’s drives between gigs provide some of the most spectacular cinematography of the last year, and it feels sometimes that the South is the film’s real star.
But of course, it’s still Jeff’s show, and he takes centre stage brilliantly, but Duvall and Gyllenhaal (as well as an almost cameoing Colin Farrell) are also excellent, he the wise old Southern sage father, she the ambitious yet sensitive reporter. Yet Crazy Heart isn’t as good as its sights and sounds. Despite a trio of very good performances, the film still follows a fairly well-trodden trajectory, and despite the occasional variation on this theme – an uncomfortable 15 minutes in a shopping mall, for example – we do get the feeling that we could’ve predicted the film’s outcome after about ten minutes. The dialogue is fairly sharp but veers between high drama and light comedy, never really settling in either or in a middle ground, but the music, beautiful cinematography and great performances still make it one of the better films of the last few months.
And it might just have my favourite final sequence of any recent movie, brilliantly shot and scored; it’s just a shame the rest of the film isn’t quite as heart-rending, nor as affecting, as you would’ve hoped it to be.
7/10: A tour de force performance from Bridges, a wonderful soundtrack and some fabulous direction lift this above many other one man shows of recent years. However, an occasionally schizophrenic script and a general feeling of ‘I know what’s going to happen’ mean that this isn’t up there with the great films about music like Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. A passionate ode to the blues and the Deep South, Crazy Heart is a finely composed piece, but just lacks a few notes which would take it over the top. Still, a lovely film to soak up the senses and a chance to enjoy a terrific actor at his best.