Monday, December 02, 2013

Crazy Heart

Originally Written and Posted at on 2/21/10 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on Thomas Cobb’s novel, Crazy Heart tells the story of an aging country music singer whose life is unfulfilling as he is playing small bars and clubs while succumbing to alcoholism. A meeting with a young journalist/single mother changes his life while he is asked by his old protégée to come out of obscurity while dealing with demons. Written for the screen and directed by Scott Cooper, Crazy Heart is a tale of redemption and hope as Jeff Bridges plays the role of Bad Blake in what many consider to be one of his finest performances. Also starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Beth Grant, and Jack Nation along with special appearances from co-producer Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell. Crazy Heart is an excellent yet entertaining musical-drama from Scott Cooper and company.

The film is a simple story about a 57-year old country/western singer named Bad Blake who was once popular as he has become a boozed, washed-up singer playing tiny clubs in the American Southwest who drives city to city at a truck. Upon meeting a journalist named Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and getting the chance to open and write new songs for his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell). Blake’s life seems to be in an upswing but his alcoholism would cause trouble as he begins a relationship with Jean and her four-year old son Buddy (Jack Nation) while recuperating from a car accident as he has a hard time trying to beat the bottle with help from friend Wayne (Robert Duvall) in the hopes he can find redemption.

While the story is a bit familiar in comparison to another film about an aging figure trying to find redemption and a comeback in the form of Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 film The Wrestler. The story of an aging country singer trying to make a comeback and deal with his alcoholism is an appealing story despite being a bit clichéd. Still, screenwriter and director Scott Cooper does make the story engaging while providing strong supporting characters to be revolved around a figure like Bad Blake. A man who is charming and fun to be with but is also hard-headed and full of pride about what he wants to do.

In meeting Jean and her son Buddy, he finds a reason to maybe quit drinking and be the kind of person he never got to be for his own son. The character of Tommy Sweet is a man who idolizes Blake while wanting to return a favor so Blake can get his career back on track. Cooper’s direction is very good in terms of getting actors to dramatize a scene or capture what is going on in the country music scene. Even as he also take shots towards the modern world of country music which has become very polished and more pop in recent years though the characters of Tommy and Blake are anything but the commercialized world of country. The former of which is successful but maintains an authentic sound. Despite a few flaws in the story and directing that isn’t very flashy or stylized, Scott Cooper does create a solid film.

Cinematographer Barry Markowitz does some phenomenal work with the film’s colorful yet gritty cinematography to convey the roughness of Southwestern U.S. with some beautiful scenery of the sky in the daytime and evening scenes. The nighttime interiors for some of the club performances is wonderful for its intimate setting as Markowitz’s work is very good. Editor John Axelrod does a fine job with the film’s editing which is mostly straightforward with its cuts with some nice transitions and jump-cuts to get the film going. Production designer Waldemar Kalinowski along with set decorator Clara Curry and art director Ben Zeller do a real good job in capturing the grimy look of the halls and clubs that Blake performs in to convey the feel of the American Southwest.

Costume designer Doug Hall does some great work in the costumes, notably the ragged look of Blake along with a more prestigious look when he’s on stage despite his haggard persona. Sound editors Andrew DeCristofaro and Paula Fairfield along with sound designer Clara Murray do a fantastic job in capturing the intimate sounds of a club and the way things sounded like at the amphitheater and arenas Blake and Tommy Sweet play at.

The film’s music which is mostly written by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton is truly the film’s technical highlight. Sticking to traditional country with a bouncy rhythm and a simpler sound with no polished production. The music is truly mesmerizing as it also features the song The Weary Kind written by Burnett and Ryan Bingham who makes an appearance in the film singing a track. Along with the song Reflecting Light by Sam Phillips, a lot of the music is sung by Jeff Bridges while Colin Farrell also sings a couple as they both possess great singing voices that is very straightforward.

The casting by Mary Vernieu is wonderful with some notable small roles from noted character actress Beth Grant as an old groupie, Tom Bower as liquor store owner who gives Blake free booze, Ryan Bingham as a guitarist at the Pueblo club, Rick Dial as Jean’s uncle who plays with Blake in Santa Fe, Paul Herman as Blake’s manager, and Jack Nation as Jean’s four-year old son Buddy. Robert Duvall is superb in a small role as Blake’s old friend Wayne who helps Blake get his act together as Duvall is just a joy to watch. Colin Farrell delivers a surprising performance as Tommy Sweet, a popular country singer who idolizes Blake while wanting to give him a chance to become big again as Farrell’s performance is great as he also delivers a solid vocal performance.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent as Jean Craddock, a journalist/single mother who is charmed by Blake but also is aware that she’s setting herself up for some trouble. Gyllenhaal’s performance is definitely a marvel to watch in how she tries to compose herself into some very emotional scenes without any kind of high drama. While it’s not up there with more noteworthy performances like Secretary, Happy Endings, and Stranger Than Fiction, it’s a performance that solidifies her as one of the best working actresses today.

Finally, there’s Jeff Bridges in what is definitely one of his greatest roles of his career. Using his friendly persona and a physicality that is definitely ragged but stunning to watch. Bridges definitely lives up to the character sported a dirty beard, looking a bit overweight, and playing to his vulnerability. Yet, he’s also someone with charm as he has great chemistry with Gyllenhaal along with some great scenes with Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall. Bridges is the heart and soul of the film as he definitely shows his charisma and depth as a performer when he is singing or just playing a guitar quietly. It’s definitely a role that shows that he is truly one of American cinema’s great actors.

Crazy Heart is a stellar film from Scott Cooper featuring a phenomenal performance from Jeff Bridges. Along with solid supporting work from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall plus an amazing soundtrack. It’s a film that isn’t entirely original but one that is appealing. Fans of Jeff Bridges will definitely see the actor play a role that truly shows his talents as it is truly deserving of the accolades it’s getting. In the end, Crazy Heart is an enjoyable yet sobering film that is like a good country song with all of its crazy emotions that is carried by the brilliance of Jeff Bridges.

(Out of the Furnace)

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

I really like Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actress though I'm just not intrigued to see this one for some reason. I wish she gets more prominent roles though.

thevoid99 said...

It's a pretty good film with Maggie in a fantastic performance as I'm glad she got an Oscar nod. I will admit that some of her recent film choices haven't been very good though I am eager to see The Honourable Woman that's coming on the Sundance Channel next year.