Scott Cooper / USA / 2009
Some actors may be recognised at the Oscars this year for grand showboating performances. Jeff Bridges may have been nominated for having a bar tab turned down in ‘Crazy Heart'!
Playing washed-up country singer Bad Blake, he rolls up at a bowling alley of all places for his next gig at the start of the film. Naturally, he tries to get wasted at the bar. Whilst struggling not to look bothered, Blake huffs and bristles and tries to look away as he's told there are no free drinks. The earnest alley manager then pours gas on the situation by offering Blake all the free bowling he wants! We learn from this altercation is that it's the petty things which can really make a good screen performance.
Bridges' character has clearly seen better days. Missing his signature song at one show to vomit in a bin out the back just about sums where he's at in his career -- and it gets worse. A doctor tells him, "You're a wreck, you have emphysema, you could have a stroke at any minute and let's face it, you're an alcoholic". Meeting a journalist (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) along the road leads to a relationship that starts to drag Blake out of his rut as he gets to know her and her young son. Naturally he screws it up.
Bridge's brilliance in ‘Crazy Heart' is his way of mixing charisma with vulnerability. The guy seems like great fun as he's messing himself up but occasionally you glimpse the hurt poking out, especially with regard to his former partner's mega-success. In pitch perfect casting, none other than Hollywood wildman Colin Farrell turns up as Blake's protégé Tommy Sweet. With one glimpse you can vividly see the pair of them raising hell across Texas.
It's a delicate balancing act, however. Too unpleasant would put off audiences. The nearest Blake comes to downright nasty is having not spoken to his son in 30 odd years and he tries to fix that. But the event that eventually forces Blake to change for good sums up the film's wariness of making him look bad. Accidentally losing Gyllenhaal's character's son at a mall suggests sympathy not scorn for a dysfunctional alcoholic, which is a shame because Bridge's could probably carry it off.
Crazy Heart follows the usual leisurely curve of self-destruction through to redemption lifted by Jeff Bridges' winning performance. Long hair, scraggily beard and laid-back vibes all confirm that once again he's back in ‘Dude' mode as originally seen in ‘The Big Lebowski'. They really should have given him an Oscar nod for that one instead.