Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, in 'Crazy Heart'

Dir. Scott Cooper
(2009, R, 112 min)
★ ★ ½

I don’t know how much I can say about Crazy Heart that I haven’t already said about troubled-musician films like Ray and Walk the Line. Substance-abusing legend meets long-suffering woman and seeks redemption. There have been great films to come out of similar plots, most recently Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, with its deeply personal performance by Mickey Rourke, but this isn’t one of them.

Nevertheless, Crazy Heart features a strong performance by Jeff Bridges, weathered and sad as alcoholic country-music washout Bad Blake. It’s an effective embodiment of the glazed senses of a hard-living drunk; he’s a solid lock to win the Oscar, though I don’t think he quite rises to that level. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean Craddock, a small-time music journalist in Santa Fe who interviews him, and is not immune to his charms. Because Gyllenhaal has a natural intelligence on screen, she never seems like a lovesick groupie, but rather a smart woman who understands the risk she takes with a man like Blake.

We follow Blake during a point in his career when the biggest venues he can book are dive bars. The film opens with his arrival at a bowling alley where he’s been hired to perform but isn’t allowed to start a bar tab; his manager had it written into his contract. He moves from gig to gig and eventually gets the opportunity to open for Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a superstar Blake once mentored and whose success Blake now resents. He keeps drinking and finding excuses to be with Jean.

The screenplay by director Scott Cooper, based on a novel by Thomas Cobb, would benefit from a stronger narrative arc. Blake’s love of Jean is meant to be the major turning point in his life, but why this woman and not, say, one of his four ex-wives? Was it only professional jealousy that caused a rift between Blake and Tommy, and what puts them on the road to mending it? Cooper gives us a slice of life, but doesn’t distinguish enough what makes this slice so transformative. I suppose that’s the worst thing I can say about the film, which is not altogether a bad slice. Damning with faint praise? I suppose. When asked my opinion afterwards, the best I could muster was an equivocating kind of approval; it doesn’t suck. There you have it.

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