Crazy Heart Review: Songs Of Praise
Stories about washed up, grizzled former heroes are a dime-a-dozen but the strength of Jeff Bridges’ performance in Crazy Heart makes a conventional story feel new again.
He plays Bad Blake, a once successful but now broken down country singer, succumbing to the ravages of time and alcohol dependency. After a successful career, he’s now reduced to playing tiny venues just to make a living (he’s first shown arriving at a bowling alley – surely a wry reference to Bridges’ seminal performance as The Dude in The Big Lebowski).
But after interviewing the troubled musician, budding local journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gently strips away his grizzled exterior to find out what makes him tick and they fall in love. Yet while Blake seems like a good match for Jean and her four year old son Buddy, his alcoholism is a looming spectre on the horizon – surely it’s only a matter of time before he slips up.
Meanwhile, his former protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) offers him a shot at a comeback – he needs help writing songs and Bad’s were always the best but as he confesses to Jean, he stopped writing songs a long time ago.
Bridges is fantastic. He’s got this ability to make a familiar character seem so believable and genuine. He’s not just playing a role; he inhabits that character completely – from his whiskey-sodden drawl to his shambling walk, he is Bad Blake.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is almost as good as Jean and brings a vulnerability but also resilience to her character – a tough single mother desperately hoping for the best but half-knowing that it’s unlikely to work out. The chemistry she has with Bridges means that we really want them to succeed as a couple and are frustrated when Bad inevitably doesn’t live up to both of their expectations.
A film about a country singer would be fall completely flat without decent songs but fortunately they are excellent. Penned by T Bone Burnett and Steven Burton, they’re like the best kinds of country songs – ones that tell a story tinged with melancholy and regret.
They creep up on you. What could have been trite tear-jerking soundtrack actually become genuinely moving plot pieces – songs which emphasise and amplify the effects of the performances. Bridges (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kris Kristofferson) sings well – a voice rich and dark but one that’s seen the bottom of many a bottle of whiskey.
In many ways, it’s this year’s The Wrestler – a former hero fallen on hard times who, through the love of good woman, has the chance to redeem himself. But this commonplace storyline is given new life by Bridges’ performance: one that deserves his Oscar nomination.