Crazy Heart is this year’s The Wrestler, and that’s not a bad thing. Without the violence and the real-life comeback story of a washed-up actor, Crazy Heart cuts to the heart of The Wrestler‘s narrative of a once-great entertainer who has alienated his family and searches for some sort of redemption…or at least a return to relevance.
Crazy Heart tells the story of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a once-popular country music star who has declined in popularity and not only crawled inside a whiskey bottle but set up permanent residence in one. He passed on his gifts and knowledge to Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), an up-and-coming country music star who has now surpassed him in popularity. Bad now travels from dive to dive (including bowling alleys) playing one-or-two night stands for meager pay and his room and board (but not bar tabs!). His reputation for drunkenness precedes him as much, or more so, than his musical talents. Along the way, he encounters a young journalist, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the two quickly fall for one another. Yet his inability to reconcile her growing interest in him and the public’s lack of any stunts any emotional growth with this new-found relationship, and he quickly loses her as well. As he stares down current and past losses, he is forced to write for redemption, but not necessarily new-found fame.
There are three great strengths to Crazy Heart, solid acting, a top-notch soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography. Bridges gives a phenomenal performance as Bad Blake, and some of his early scenes draw from his performance as El Duderino. Throughout the film, however, these parallels begin to fade and Bridges becomes at one with Bad, aided in great part by the fact that he can actually sing. T-Bone Burnett has crafted some great country songs that carry forth the themes of the film while also drawing from, and contributing to, the on-going discussion about who’s real country and who’s not. This controversy is epitomized by the tension between Tommy Sweet and Bad. It’s interesting that Colin Farrell, who is Irish, plays the up-and-coming country singer. Such casting brings to mind Keith Urban, the Australian born real-life country singer. Yet Bad reassures Jean…and the viewers…that Tommy is real country.
The cinematography of Crazy Heart brings to mind any number of John Ford films. As Bad moves across the American west from gig to gig, first time director Scott Cooper and cinematographer Barry Markowitz keep the horizon low in the frame, emphasizing and upward movement as the sky dominates the screen. Perhaps this positioning further illustrates Bad’s longing for more. The barrenness of the deserts through which he travels mirrors an emptiness in his life as well. Cooper and Markowitz don’t need the towering rock formations of Monument Valley that symbolize outward and internal struggle with so many of Ford’s characters. They make a guitar and a whiskey bottle seem mountainous enough.
The theme of redemption is readily apparent in Crazy Heart, yet Bad’s depths of despair are (un)fortunately more compelling, at least as far as the acting is concerned, than his emergence from them. Nevertheless, Crazy Heart is certainly one of the most entertaining films of the year and likely to take home a few Oscars (perhaps Best Actor and Best Song?).
Crazy Heart (112 mins) is rated R for language and brief sexuality and is in theaters everywhere.