Jeff Bridges has had such a lengthy and distinguished career that it comes as quite a surprise to learn he’s never bagged an Oscar.
That will probably be rectified in 2010 thanks to Crazy Heart, a poignant portrait of a washedup country singer that finds him giving a perfectly pitched portrayal, sure to impress the Academy.
Bridges, to be fair, is better than the film itself, which charts a generic trajectory travelled by any number of music-based dramas (Tender Mercies is the obvious comparison, not least because its Oscar-winning lead Robert Duvall produces and cameos). Affection for its star goes a long way though, making it easy to ignore the myriad clichés that prop up actor Scott Cooper’s debut effort as writer/director.
A shambolic drunk reduced to trotting out his long-ago hits in grotty bars and dilapidated bowling alleys, Bad Blake (Bridges) is a shadow of his former self. But just enough of his old charisma lingers for him to attract Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a Santa Fe journalist and single mom with a weakness for deadbeats. Her affection persuades Bad to change his chainsmokin’, beer-swillin’, skirt-chasin’ ways.
How long will it be, though, before he falls off the wagon again, taking Jean and her young son (Jack Nation) down with him? One neat subplot sees Bad being hired as a warm-up act for his former protégé (Colin Farrell), a next-gen country star who has inherited all of his strengths and none of his failings.
In the end, though, it’s Bridges himself who makes this straightforward amble down the rocky road to redemption one worth taking, his gruff, bearded country charmer feeling utterly authentic both on stage and off.
The 60-year-old actor has done even better work than this in the past and will probably do even better than this in the future. Were he to take home a golden baldie on 7 March, though, there’s not a man in Hollywood who’d begrudge him.
Crazy Heart is a B-grade movie elevated to A-grade status by Bridges’ nuanced, heartbreaking performance. Gyllenhaal is terrific too as a smart woman who can’t help loving that man.