Review: Crazy Heart

The Thinker by Rodin

One of the big mysteries in life is why women keep falling for bad men. If you are a cute thirtyish woman reporter from Santa Fe (Jane, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) then why in the heck would you fall for a man old enough to be your father who smokes, drinks constantly and spends much of his life puking in the toilet (Jeff Bridges)? If his name is “Bad” Blake, well, maybe that’s a sign that there might as well be a blinking red light bulb over his head. Bad is a country and western singer who drives a 70s Suburban across the west and spends his time not packing them in at stages in bowling alleys.

You are expected to suspend disbelief in Crazy Heart, because this is the essence of the plot. Moreover, it’s not too hard to believe, given that all sorts of women move from one toxic relationship to another. But golly, this one sure is a whopper. Bad Blake can play a tune and write some compelling heartfelt songs like Johnny Cash.  But when you spend your life drunk then eventually creativity tends to vanish. Bad’s inability to write anything new may be contributing to his downward spiral and those backwater venues where he sings and strums his tunes. It’s not a great life on this road: cheap motels, bad and greasy food and ephemeral relationships. And of course you must constantly keep a flask handy to handle your alcohol addiction and when not swigging from it there must be a cigarette hanging between your lips.

Bad Blake is aptly named but mostly he is crushed under the weight of alcohol and tobacco. Somewhere under the haze and stench of liquor is a decent guy but with a trail of estranged wives and broken relationships, and a son he hasn’t seen since he left him with his mother at age four. Jeff Bridges tries to make us peer inside the cranium of this man but the view is not particularly pretty. It’s not hard to feel more appalled than sympathetic. I can’t say the same about Maggie Gyllenhaal, a spunky actress I first came to admire in the very odd but very compelling movie about dominance and submission, Secretary (2002).

If there is good in Crazy Heart, it is from its portrayal of a small group of people that are good at heart but sunken by the weights of environmental factors and bad choices. Jane and Bad must be attracted to each other because they haven’t figured out how to have healthy relationships, perhaps because they’ve never seen one modeled. Bad looks pretty much beyond redemption. I don’t care what kind of groupie you are; you have to be particularly myopic to fall for a wreck like him.

So follow Bad, Jane, Jane’s cute four-year-old son Buddy (Jack Nation) around the west. Lose count of the cigarettes in Bad’s mouth or the shots of whiskey rushing down his gullet. Enjoy some of the odd supporting actors in the movie including Colin Farrell as Bad’s more talented protégé Tommy Sweet or Robert Duvall as his buddy Wayne, his seemingly last link to the real world.

The impetus for the movie becomes more understandable when you look at the credits. Duvall and Bridges must have been investors in the movie. Jeff was one of the executive producers and Duvall was one of the producers. So the animus for the movie seems to be some sort of project for these actors to stretch their wings a bit beyond acting. Since this is a low budget character movie, there wasn’t much risk, and Bridges is a bankable star, assuring it would not lose money. But Bad Blake is not a great character like Rooster Cogburn, and Duvall’s minor part as the barkeep Wayne is nothing compared to Tom Hagan in The Godfather: Part II or Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.

You may feel the need for a belt or two after watching this generally dreary movie. It’s well acted but you have a sense how it will end, and it ends up there. Unfortunately, going along for this ride is a bit like being in the backseat when there is a drunk driver is at the wheel. It’s not the sort of ride you are likely to enjoy, so you probably won’t cry that the movie wasn’t long enough when the credits role.

There is certainly some decent acting here, but nothing in the way of a compelling plot. Consequently, it’s pretty easy fare to skip for something more worthy.

3.1 on my four-point scale.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

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