Review: Crazy Heart

7 March 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Before I walked into the cinema, I already loved writer/director Scott Cooper’s debut Crazy Heart. I had not seen this film. This feeling also occurred last year when I saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk. When this feeling appears, I know that the stakes are high. Expectations are something that usually kill a film’s reception. How many films do you walk into without any preconceptions or expectations? Not that many is the answer!

Luckily for Crazy Heart, my high expectations were met with some positively visceral responses. I saw this film alone, which I’m starting to think is possibly the only way to really view a film, where you are permitted to freely giggle, hum along and shed the occasional tear without embarrassment of being caught by that friend or significant other who came along. And for the record, all of these emotions poured out of me during the screening.

Crazy Heart sees washed up country star Bad Blake struggle to make his way through a series of small town pubs gigs (the lowest of the low being in a bowling alley.) It’s on one of his D-grade sets that Bad meets Jean, a local journalist with a young son, both of whom Bad clicks naturally with.. As he keeps pushing on through the harsh midwest, his alcoholic downfall hits hard, and the road to redemption seems only inevitable.

We’ve seen this story before many times, most recently last year in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which provided Mickey Rourke with the comeback of a lifetime. While we know where the story is going to go, it does not stop the little voice inside that says “NO!!!” The conflicts and the resolutions do come, but the saving grace of Crazy Heart is its leading characters and the music.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, a surprise nominee for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award this year, absolutely broke my heart with her performance. And it’s a character that we’ve seen many times before. A jilted mother who is trying to have a career and raise a healthy child. Enter a catalyst for change, with a destructive drinking problem, and you’re going to get some crying. But it’s beautiful crying, and while I would have preferred Julianne Moore getting the fifth nomination in the Oscar category, I believe that Gyllenhaal earns her reward.

There are some nice performances from Robert Duvall (who won the 1983 Oscar for Best Actor in Tender Mercies in an almost identical storyline), Jean’s son Buddy played Jack Nation and a surprisingly slick and talented Colin Farrell, doing his own singing which sounded fairly amazing. Who knew?

However, it is Bad Blake himself who is the star of the moment. And he’s played to perfection by the wonderfully talented and formerly ‘most underappreciated actor in Hollywood’ Mr Jeff Bridges. On his fifth career nomination, the first being 38 years ago in the Best Supporting Actor category for The Last Picture Show, Bridges looks set to finally win the Oscar. That’s right, the dude who played the dude is finally getting his Oscar cred, and what a wonderful performance to be receiving such acclaim for. Bridges shows Bad to be so endearing and understanding, despite slightly irresponsible and reckless behaviour. The character, which obviously resembles a Kris Kristofferson type, showcases Bridges’ dual talents of acting and singing so effectively, that I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

The film, more than most films, relies on the sounds and songs that come from the singers mouths, and thankfully it sounds great. Bridges had turned down the project until later agreeing to sign on, knowing that T-Bone Burnett was on board doing the music. And thank God for T-Bone!

Throughout the film, a song written by Bad is used continually and serves as the main theme. With the daunting pressure comes ‘The Weary Kind’, written by Ryan Bingham (who appears as a band member at the start of the film) and T-Bone Burnett. The song was written after Bingham read the script and took what he felt like five minutes to write it. If this song doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Original Song, I’ll be renouncing a lot of things! And may I just add that it is a travesty that Fallin’ & Flyin’’ was not nominated.

The character made be named Bad, but the film is not. And if you’re a fan of the comeback kid, then do yourself a favour and check out Crazy Heart.

James Madden is a graduating Bachelor of Arts student, who majored in cinema and media studies at La Trobe University. He contributes to The Vine and is a co founder of Film Blerg, where this review was originally published.

See also: Michael Calle’s Oscar preview