The first ten minutes of Crazy Heart is pretty near perfect. A down-but-not-quite-out musician – country singer Bad Blake, just north of 60 – finds himself booked for a gig in a bowling alley. He has to pay for his own booze and his groupies all look just north of 40. And yet most of his dignity remains. It’s just a bit covered in dust.
We’ve seen it all before. And yet, this fine movie and Jeff Bridges makes it feel like we’re seeing it all for the first time.
Nothing says “40 years on the road” quite like showing up moments before show time, taking the stage staggering drunk, getting the crowd going, dashing into the alley to vomit, and traipsing back, shirt soaked with sweat, to finish the set.
And nothing could be more casually well-observed than Bad Blake’s first arrival at the bowling alley. He takes one look at where he’ll be spending the evening, most likely earning little more than the tank of gas that’ll get him to the next bowling alley, and then pulls a jug of urine out of his Suburban and pours it in the parking lot.
Entering the bowling alley, he is greeted with, “This is a no-smoking establishment, but you can finish that one.” He orders a beer and is refused a bar tab. “It’s not in your contract, Bad.” He nonchalantly offers the manager his glass saying, “Hold this.” He then snubs out his cigarette in the half-empty glass and walks out the door.
The whole movie is filled with great little moments like these and Bridges plays them all with the coy confidence of a grizzled old master. His work feels comfortable and worn like an old pair of slippers while wooing an attractive young reporter, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and while pushing her young son on a swing.
And, while dueling on stage with young country rival, Tommy Sweet (an oddly cast and uncomfortable looking Colin Farrell), Bridges feels like he’s living out a chapter from his own life like Crazy Heart is really a cloaked re-telling of his life’s experiences. Sweet, and Farrell, is like the latest new wave of young leading men – and Bridges has seen plenty of new waves break on his shores.
Bridges does all of his own singing and he’s totally convincing. I left the theater actually believing Bridges to be a country singer as if there’s a whole facet of his career that I missed hearing about somehow. I felt like heading to the store on the way home and picking up his greatest hits album.
Yes, hearing Jeff Bridges’ acceptance speech after winning the Best Actor Oscar will be sweet indeed. He’s deserved the award so many times it’s, well, crazy. And he richly deserves the honor again this time. This won’t be one of those “toss the old guy a bone” awards. Bridges’ work here is as rich and nuanced as ever.
Unfortunately, after that terrific first ten minutes, the movie does take a bit of a dip. It settles into something more like a comfortably predictable groove like some country song you’ve heard on the jukebox every time you’ve visited your favorite watering hole. It’s always good and always entertaining, even welcome and comforting, but it ends up playing in your head before it reaches your ears.
In the end, the movie ends up feeling like a really well made box simply meant to hold Jeff Bridges’ remarkable performance. Nothing wrong with that though.