Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, based upon the novel by William Cobb (which I have not read), is a simple, authentic, moving film about an aging country music singer/songwriter, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges, incredible), who's tangled up with alcohol, trouble and his art.
Produced by Robert Duvall, like Sling Blade and The Apostle, it continues in that tradition (even with some of the same actors, minus Billy Bob) of straightforward, often brilliant storytelling with an astonishing lead performance.
The strong lead performance here is Bridges's Oscar-winning turn as Blake. Blake's story is purposely, I think, left hanging a bit. It's like a template into which you can read aspects of the stories of your own favorite hard-charging country stars, whether Hank Williams, Sr., Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, etc.
You feel like you know Blake, because the story is simple and universal, and especially because of Bridges's own film persona and performance, and how they inform one another. Duvall adds heft in a similar way as Blake's old friend and fishing buddy.
Blake is pretty down in the dumps when he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal, excellent), a local reporter and niece of one of Blake's ever-changing cast of back-up performers, Wesley Barnes (Rick Dial, of Sling Blade and The Apostle). Despite the hits they've taken in their own personal and professional lives, there's a charming and believable instant chemistry between them.
But Jean is the more careful one, a young single mother of a young son. It takes a while for them to get to trust each other and form a real relationship, despite the multi-layered attraction between them.
As their relationship progresses, there's also positive news on Blake's career trajectory, as he cautiously navigates a reconciliation with an old apprentice, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, good) who has become a big star of his own, in no small part due to his association with Blake and Blake's songs. But as we see all of this developing well for Blake, the suspense builds as to how his addictions may sabotage him. Things don't happen exactly as one might suspect, which is refreshing and feels honest and almost subdued, largely avoiding melodrama or cliché.
In addition to Bridges's Oscar win and Gyllenhaal's nomination, the film also won an Oscar for Best Song for Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett for "The Weary Kind." I don't know if I would have voted for that if anybody asked me, but all of the music fits well into the story, and, at times, truly rocks.
Crazy Heart is a remarkable first directorial and screenwriting bow for Scott Cooper, and Bridges's Oscar win is richly deserved and worthwhile to discover. It all leaves you wanting more, you want to spend more time with these characters and this story.
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