There are plenty of country songs about washed-up, no-good men who can be found at the bottom of a bottle and the end of their final dollar.
Men who forget about their kids, use up their wives and play a sad, sad tune – but oh, Lord, how she loved him. Crazy Heart is one of those songs – deceptively simple, familiar and derivative, but still tugging at emotions with a haunting quality and ultimately creating a melody that gets under your skin.
Not unfairly labelled as ‘The Wrestler does country music’, Crazy Heart follows the diminishment of music star turned booze hound ‘Bad’ Blake (Jeff Bridges). With his glory days behind him, this is a man who drunkenly up-chucks between sets on a tour of smalltown bars and bowling alleys. A man who runs on fags, whiskey and one-night-stands. A man who pees in a container during long, hazy drives between gigs in a shit-heap car.
But when he performs, he’s still got the old magic – and it’s something that local reporter and single mum Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) finds seductive. Bad is fiending for companionship – as well as his next drink – but can a hard-living old dog learn new tricks and find redemption for the love of a good woman?
At the heart of this generic tale (based partly on Kris Kristofferson’s alcoholic spiral) is that Oscar-winning performance by Bridges. Casting vanity to the desert winds, he’s by turns lolling and wolfish, sweaty and suave, lover and loser, rolling his drawling words round his mouth like liquor and fearlessly portraying the heartbreaking, disappointing, selfish and dangerous aspects of addiction.
Matching him, Gyllenhaal manages to bring a sweet melancholy to a role that merely requires her to fall for Bad to further the plot, while Colin Farrell nearly steals the picture from under Bridges’ nose with a charismatic cameo as a former protégé.
Though the performances are front and centre, director Scott Cooper’s evocative sense of place is as much of an attraction. Part travelogue, part mood piece, Crazy Heart offers a taste of the desert, from the lovingly lensed sun-baked vistas on Bad’s car journeys to the beauty of an open-air theatre or a cactus-filled ramshackle garden. Meanwhile, T-Bone Nelson’s lilting original songs (sung by both Bridges and Farrell) add another layer of veracity and indelible melancholy to Bad’s car-crash career.
So what if you’ve heard this tune before? Crazy Heart is undeniably catchy and worth turning the volume up for. A shame then that something so organic is also ruthlessly exploited – with no DVD extras in sight, you’ll have to stump up extra cash for Blu-Ray if you want to watch the deleted scenes and featurette. Not sure Bad (who growls, “I sing, I play, I don’t sell my goddamn records”) would approve of that.
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