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Movie Review: Crazy Heart

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Jeff Bridges is one of those actors I never really paid that much attention to. It's not that I wasn't aware of him or that I didn't see any of his movies, no. My relationship with Bridges was more fueled by indifference than anything else. Still, as I take a look over his filmography, it's just littered with strong performances, making me think I should pay closer attention. Just look at films like Starman, The Big Lebowski, The Fisher King, and The Fabulous Baker Boys. There is no denying the man can act. However, all of those performances seem to have been training, everything leading to his performance in Crazy Heart, which just may be the finest of his career.

In Crazy Heart, Bridges portrays Bad Blake, a hard drinking, chain smoking, broken down old country singer, a man who was a star in his day but who has seen his star fade. He travels from town to town playing lounges, bowling alleys, and pretty much anywhere else that will have him while he gets put up in low rent motels. He still has hopes of rekindling his career, but he wants to do it his own way, although the prospect of compromising his ideals is right around the corner.

It is a story we've heard before. What works so well for Crazy Heart is that when you see Jeff Bridges' Blake, you believe that he has lived this life. He is completely and utterly convincing. I look at Bad Blake and believe I could go to the store and find his records, likely on the budget rack, but they are there. It is a moving performance.

The easiest way to describe the movie is to call it the 2009 version of The Wrestler (2008), only instead of wrestling it is country music. Also, instead of Mickey Rourke we get Jeff Bridges and instead of Marisa Tomei it's Maggie Gyllenhaal. Now, it is not exactly the same, but to say there are no similarities would just be wrong. I also have to wonder if my love and affection for The Wrestler in any way colored my reaction to Crazy Heart. I wonder if this because I left The Wrestler feeling much more emotionally affected than I did here. For as good as Crazy Heart is, I did not feel as connected to it as I was hoping or expecting to.

Still, there is no doubt there is a heart at the center of this movie. It deals with alcoholism, new love, and discovering yourself in a different place than where you began, and does it in a unique way. Well, unique to the movies anyway. Rather than diving in and playing up the cliche, first time writer/director Scott Cooper lets the cliche play out as if it were the first time it were being told. Simultaneously recognizable and fresh.

Bridges is not your stereotypical drunk; he gives Blake an edge of reality. Blake is a guy who has been around the block and knows how to play the game despite getting close to that breaking point. He's a man who has lost a lot of what it takes to have a genuine connection with another person, replacing that with whiskey and an "every new town a new girl" mentality.

Things change when he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a small town music writer. She has a love for music but also a bit of a groupie-type affection for Blake that she tries to hide behind her professionalism. She is also an emotional woman who has made bad decisions in the past yet is doing her best for her four-year-old son.

What happens next is easily seen. We have seen it before, but it still manages to feel new. Before long, Blake and Jean are an item. Jean is finding unlikely love in the arms of an aging musician, while Blake is finding there is still time to change. If anything, the relationship gets deep a little too fast; there is scarcely a passage of time between their initial interview meeting and Blake and Jean's son are playing with a paper football at her kitchen table. That issue aside, it is fascinating to watch Blake change.

His outlook takes a change as things begin to happen in his life that he was not expecting. Everything builds to a life-changing event that turns into a change in life in the hopes of a happier future. It is not the most original final act, but it still works for these characters. It feels true to them and that is what matters most.

Crazy Heart is a well made, written, and acted film. Scott Cooper displays a talent for creating believable characters in a realistic setting. Sure, it may have moved a little fast at times, but I will give it the benefit of the doubt and believe there had to be condensation somewhere in order to tell the full story. Aside from that, Cooper successfully captures the characters. The acting is very strong. Of course, this is led by Bridges, who also performs his own songs (to great effect). It works very well without being great.

Bottom line. This is certainly a movie to see. Bridges is great, Gyllenhaal is quite good, and don't forget supporting players Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell. It features some really good music. The movie is also quite personal in nature, the opposite of so many Hollywood releases. This one expands upon the character studies of the '70s to tell a modern story.

Recommended.

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