The first mistake I noticed watching Crazy Heart was an early familiar shot of Jeff Bridges at a bowling alley bar. It invites too many comparisons right out of the gate and I found it entirely too cute for the story they were setting up. I soon wondered how the film found itself up for so many Academy Awards in 2009. Not to say that the film is poor but I found it in no way remarkable. It was an above average presentation of a very tired story carried almost entirely by the charisma of its cast.
Jeff Bridges’ performance, which earned him an Oscar for Best Actor, never struck me as entirely true. Nothing is overtly wrong with it, just slightly off and a little too foreign to a hard living country star in my mind. I’m talking minor things like his stance, hand bent on hip, when browbeating a tech during sound check. It’s very Jeff Bridges; not so much Kris Kristofferson. Far too much of his performance as a drunk went over the top, too, with him openly vomiting frequently and seemingly played for comic effect. This felt entirely contrived for a character supposedly as hardened as “Bad” Blake. The name, too, sounded cheesy to me. I had no clue for most of the movie that “Bad” served as his first name. It sounded like the name of a masked wrestler to me. It is to Bridges’ credit that he makes material like this work as well as he does. It’s B-grade material in A-list hands.
Maggie Gyllenhaal had less to live up to but she made her similarly thin material work. All she had to do was be nice to Blake and talk a lot about her son. Bridges’ moments as a family man in the making are the best through the first two thirds of the film, especially his time with Gyllenhaal’s son. Blake’s behind the scenes stuff rarely interested me, especially when he met up with Collin Farrell’s Tommy Sweet. The movie picks up again at the introduction of Robert Duvall’s character, who adds much needed grounding to Blake’s world. Before him it’s all flights of fancy.
Duvall, though good, ultimately served to gloss over the most important part of the film, Blake’s inevitable journey into sobriety. If the movie is to be believed, though, getting sober is as easy as making a decision to do so. It’s as empty as the movie’s portrayal of Blake’s alcoholism. His problems never have any ultimate consequences. He loses a kid, who is easily found. He wrecks his truck and breaks an ankle. He’s lost his drive as a performer and an artist. So do a great number of sober people. The movie never ties back to his addiction except when it tells us it does. His hospital conversation spells it out directly, with the doctor telling him to quit drinking, smoking and to lose 25 pounds. That’s all it takes to turn his life around.
The great shame is that the opening does set up Blake as a tragic character. His nosing around for booze at bars and liquor stores is never followed up on, and his onstage fumbles are played for laughs. Gyllenhall has savior written all over her from her very introduction, even though it never makes much sense that Blake is drawn to her. It just sort of happens and he keeps coming back to her in spite of his distance and lifestyle. Outside of his fame not much is made of her attraction to him. She plays it appropriately hesitant, though, and never seems quite as committed as Blake to the idea of a relationship.
The movie spends far too long on the musical performances given by Bridges, particularly as the songs change very seldom. That time could have been better spent on Blake’s descent. I suppose it served to show some of the spark he once had but after the first one I found them tedious. I had no interest in Farrell’s Sweet character or his performance whatsoever. I would much rather have spent that time with Blake and his bitterness. Their reunion went far too smoothly considering how much build up came before it to establish its difficulty for Blake.
That difficulty was what this movie lacked, from Blake’s substance abuse to his emotional problems to his rocky relationships and his recoveries from these, he never seemed to struggle with these issues. He coasts along effortlessly through his existence and when Blake needs something life hands it to him. In the end “Bad” abides. 2 ½ stars