Crazy Heart Review
Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) was once a star on the country-music circuit. Now fifty-seven and an alcoholic, he's reduced to touring small towns in the South and trading on past glories while his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) has become hugely successful. Then one day in Santa Fe, Bad meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist with a young son, sent to do a story on him. They fall in love, which sets Bad on the road to recovery...or does it?
From the moment that it was released, Crazy Heart was talked up as the film which would finally earn Jeff Bridges an Oscar. (It did, and won a second for the song “The Weary Kind”.) That attention to the film's lead actor is symptomatic of the film itself: it's a showcase for a fine performance but not a great film, though certainly an enjoyable and watchable one.
If Bridges's Oscar is something of a career gong, it's certainly not before time. I wouldn't disagree that he should have won for at least one of his four previous nominations (one lead, three supporting) and indeed for several other performances which were not even nominated, for example The Fabulous Baker Boys. For nearly four decades, Bridges has been one of the most consistent actors in Hollywood. He's not been a member of the false nose and heavy makeup acting club: he has always looked pretty much the same from film to film, with maybe a weight gain or loss here and there, or facial hair in one film and clean-shaven the next, his performances created by subtle nuances of speech and body language. I can only think offhand of one bad Jeff Bridges performance: his villain in the misbegotten US remake of The Vanishing. In Crazy Heart, Bridges is Bad Blake to the life: chain smoking and drinking, paunchy and grizzled, his beard flecked with white, spending his afternoons lying on a bed watching Spanish-language soap operas on TV. But when he's on stage – and Bridges did his own singing - his enjoyment is infectious, however small an audience he's playing to. You can see that he was a star, if a minor one, before, and you can see the charisma. That goes some way to redeeming the prevalent, and arguably misogynistic, Hollywood cliché of a much younger woman falling for an older man rather than someone nearer her own age. (Gyllenhaal is in reality twenty-eight years younger than Bridges.)
Maggie Gyllenhaal, always an appealing actor herself, does what she can with an underwritten and frankly rather formulaic role. The presence of Robert Duvall, though he's not onscreen very much, inevitably recalls his own Oscar role as a washed-up country singer, in 1983's Tender Mercies. Colin Farrell's fourth-billed role isn't much more than an extended cameo, with a beard and a ponytail, but he does well enough – and good casting as a younger country stud. He does his own singing too.
Written by director Scott Cooper from a novel by Thomas Cobb, Crazy Heart follows rather well-worn dramatic patterns, with the key crises flagged up well in advance. Even more so, the drama in some parts is undercooked. For example, it's stated that Bad and Tommy have had a longstanding feud, but we never see much of it: when they meet in the middle of the film, it's like a reunion of respectful friends. There are certainly harder-edged films on similar subjects around: I'll particularly mention Sissy Spacek's own Oscar-winning role in Coal Miner's Daughter. And if you want real edge, check out Rip Torn in Payday.
Barry Markowitz's photography is an asset, conveying much of the atmosphere of the small bars and bowling alleys Bad is reduced to playing in, and actually helping the film hang together as well as it does. The songs, many of them by Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett are pretty good too.
Crazy Heart isn't a masterpiece, but its familiarity may well be comforting and it makes for a very pleasant hour and three quarters. Fans of Jeff Bridges will need no further recommendation: if this isn't necessarily his best performance, it's a good one, and no-one can deny him his Oscar.
Under review is Fox's UK DVD edition of Crazy Heart, which comes as one dual-layered DVD encoded for Regions 2 and 4 and which also includes a digital copy of the film, compatible with PC and Mac. There is also a Blu-ray edition which has some more extras (see below).
Crazy Heart was shot in Super 35 (3-perf, according to the IMDB) and used a digital intermediate. It was shown in cinemas in Scope, and the DVD is in the correct ratio of 2.40:1, anamorphically enhanced. I didn't see this film in the cinema, but I don't have any reason to doubt that this DVD looks as it should do: Markowitz's camerawork is frequently darkly lit, and even scenes outdoors in the Tezas sunshine have a deliberately dour quality to them. Grain is certainly present, but it seems natural and filmlike, and shadow detail is as it should be.
The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1, with an audio-descriptive option in the same format. Much of the film is dialogue-driven with the surrounds used mainly for ambience. But in the gig scenes, the soundstage opens up, with crowd noises in the surrounds. The subwoofer helps out with the basslines in the songs. Subtitles are available in English (hard-of-hearing) and four Nordic languages.
Apart from the digital copy, the only extras are a set of deleted scenes with a Play All option. These are “Bad Plays 'Somebody Else' in Santa Fe” (2:22), “Bad Visits Tommy Backstage” (1:12), “Bad and Jean in Taos” (2:14), “Encouragement from Wayne” (0:33) and “Bad Relapses” (4:29). These are presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The last is the most substantial, as indicated by the running time, and features an encounter with a woman called Donna (played by Annie Corley), a character entirely excised from the final version. Included on the Blu-ray but not here, so mentioned without comment, are two alternate music cuts and an interview featurette with Bridges, Gyllenhaal and Duvall.