Sunday, May 2, 2010

Review: Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart (2009, Scott Cooper)

Bad Blake(Geff Bridges) is a 57 year old country music legend. Well, perhaps calling him a legend would be stretching the truth somewhat. He’s certainly known within the industry and still plays intimate concerts at some small venues, but his glory days are long behind him. Out of shape, an alcoholic, Bad relies heavily on his old material to earn some dollars while some of the more modern artists, such as Tommy (Colin Farrell) bask in the success and glory. It is only upon meeting a beautiful reporter named Janes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is granted an exclusive interview with Bad, that this old dog might change his ways and rediscover decency and the beauty of human contact.

It’s funny, but I’m under the distinct impression that for the better part of the past month I’ve been watching films which have been guided by deceptively simple stories, ones that film buffs have most likely seen many times before, only to discover that each individual movie was blessed with a few high praiseworthy aspects. Crazy Heart, from first time director Tom Higgins, continues this trend with a plot for which one can arguably guess most of the twists and turns. The primary reason to see the film is for Jeff Bridges, who inhabits the character of Bad and gives him his own quirks, ticks and crazy heart. Bridges is one of my personal favourite actors, a man who throughout his career has given solid performance after solid performance with very few, if any, hiccups along the way. I’m not saying all of his films have been great, but he himself has consistently been so. There is something effortless about Bridges’ performance. The passive aggressive frustration displayed when Bad doesn’t get exactly his way, the affable manner in which he answers certain questions, the mellowness that flows from him during his better moments, etc. What’s so impressive about Bridges as an actor in general and about this role in particular are the subtleties that might cause the acting to look less impressive than it is. It almost looks too easy at times for Bridges, but that's part of what makes him so good. He isn’t a very loud actor or one that relishes in games of showmanship (or rarely), but he always has control of the role and knows exactly what he’s doing with it.

The actor portraying Bad is not the only strong point I’d like to touch upon. The character is also cleverly written. At the onset of the film I feared that Bad would not only be an alcoholic and down on his luck, but also a pain in the neck to all those around him. I think making him a real grouch would have risked putting the film into even more familiar territory. It would have been too easy and hinted at lazy writing. But luckily we don’t exactly get that sort of character. There is little doubt that Bad has his sour moments, but he refrains from ever becoming completely anal. He enjoys playing with talented musicians and puts on a little bit of charm for the Jane when being interviewed. Unlike what I feared might happen, Bad isn’t shocked or irked to learn that Jane has a son. On the contrary, he takes a liking very quickly to the young boy, and the relationship between the two is rather sweet.

As for the other performances, they’re a bit of a mixed bag unfortunately. The other highlight would have to be Maggie Gyllenhaal, who often brings a down to earth but very womanly qualities to her roles. Was the performance worthy of an Oscar nomination? I’m not so sure about that, but I felt she was strong enough to counter Bridges’ acting prowess. The two work very well with one another despite the age difference, but whatever issues that arise from the writing. There characters might fall for each other a bit too quickly. It seems as though it only requires a couple of interviews for Bad and Jade to get all mushy with each other. Colin Farrell plays an old rival turned friend who shows up for a few scenes, but overall I didn’t feel he was awarded much to do, which is sad because I’ve always thought very highly of him as an actor. He sort of just looks around at the ground, avoiding Bad’s eyes and mutters some lines. Robert Duval oddly appears late in the film as an old friend of Bad who runs bar. Again, much like with Farrell, Duval is a proven actor who is so good at times and yet I was struck by how little he added to the proceedings. Crazy Heart is affected by inspired casting in some instances and strange casting in others.

This being a film about a country music legend, it would have been shameful for the filmmakers not to showcase any country music. Plenty is offered here, and much of it is very good. I believe I’ve mentioned this before in my review for Nine earlier this year, but my musicology credentials aren’t worth nill so I just have to go from the gut when judging music and I like a lot of what I heard in Crazy Heart. What impressed me even more was the reality that all the actors who we see singing in character in the movie are truly performing all the songs. Bridges, Farrell and even Duval get in on the mix. They are do an admirable job at it too.

I shan’t go on for much longer. My reviews tend to get a bit wordy so I figured I’d just pop out a brief one this one time. There is however another factor playing into the nature of this review: the movie simply didn’t affect me in any significant way. As I’ve already mentioned, the two leads are very good and the music is a lot of fun, but nothing else in Crazy Heart retained my attention. The supporting players, the story, even the directing was very plain. I perfectly understand that Scott Cooper is a first time director whose best work may still be ahead of him. I wouldn’t even call his directorial style here bad, because it isn’t. It’s just ‘plain.’ The moments in the film when the characters were on stage and having a good time singing some good old country music songs were among my favourite in the film because the story and familiar dramatic beats took a back seat to some solid music, concert style. Cooper plays things a little bit too safe for my tastes. I’m sure the guy has it in him to deliver something special down the road, it just didn’t happen with Crazy Heart.


mcarteratthemovies said...

B- is a very fair grade for "Crazy Heart," especially considering Bridges keeps the movie afloat. He's the star and he's just as spectacular as I expected. I agree with you that Gyllenhaal probably didn't deserve a nomination (certainly not when Abbie Cornish of "Bright Star" didn't get one!), but she's good in every movie.

edgarchaput said...

Unfortunately I haven't seen 'Bright Star', so I'm in no position to make any comparison, but I have heard nothing but good things about it. It is definitely on my radar.

Miss Topanga said...

totally agree on farrell being underused and bridges realism.

however, i haven't liked bridges in everything. have you seen "how to lose friends and alienate people"? pretty awful movie, and didn't like bridges there.

edgarchaput said...

I'm not sure I even know what that movie is.