A 'Crazy Heart' Full Of Song And Sadness

W: Jeff Bridges in 'Crazy Heart'

Oh So Lonesome: Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, an aging country music star whose waning popularity and self-destructive habits have relegated him to small-town shows and a life of stubborn solitude. Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Crazy Heart

  • Director: Scott Cooper
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 111 minutes

Rated R for language and brief sexuality

With: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell

(Recommended)

Crazy Heart, a graceful little independent film that plows the familiar terrain of self-sabotaging celebrity, is lit from within by an incandescent performance from Jeff Bridges. It may finally win one of America's finest actors the Oscar for which he's been nominated four times.

Bridges plays the aptly self-titled Bad Blake, a country music star closing in on 60, whose love of the bottle has reduced him to eking out gigs in the American West, where he still has name recognition in a few backwoods saloons.

Dragging himself from one faceless motel to the next, Bad shows up and performs like a pro, but for all other purposes he's a feckless wastrel who's long since chucked all pretense of dignity into the toilets and trash cans where he throws up after every bender.

Bridges, who's the least vain of all American actors — and one of the most astute at suggesting all that a man might be, for better and worse — leads with his body in this movie. His big, exposed gut strains out from behind a stained shirt, his eyes growing beady and small, his voice fading to a mumble as Bad gets more drunk and less attentive to the agents, friends and one-night stands he knows he has repeatedly let down. He's another of Bridges' many dudes, minus the laughs or the endearing cluelessness.

Yet Bridges also makes us see that there's enough intelligence, enough genuine curiosity and lazy carnality left in Bad — along with a buried desire for salvation — to render him attractive to Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a fetching young reporter with a history of attaching herself to unreliable men.

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhall in 'Crazy Heart' i

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a reporter and young mother who latches on to Blake's desire for redemption. Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhall in 'Crazy Heart'

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a reporter and young mother who latches on to Blake's desire for redemption.

Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Gyllenhaal, often a distractingly tic-ridden actress who relies heavily on her sex-kitten sultriness, here shows unexpected backbone as a single mother coming to terms with her own bad habits as she takes yet another chance on a much-married man who's potentially crippled by his.

Rhythmically directed by actor Scott Cooper, who adapted the screenplay from a novel by Thomas Cobb, Crazy Heart is largely the story of Jean and Bad's up-and-down romance. But the movie also offers a loving homage to the down-at-the-heel corners of the country scene, with its lonely older women and its unsung backup players. (The terrific score features several original songs by T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton.)

From time to time the action raises the possibility of the dramatic sensationalism that often cheapens such stories of individual lives, only to drop the suggestion and move forward in pursuit of the film's better purpose — the delicate unfolding of a man's everyday struggle with error, pain, jealousy and regret, and his graduation to a kind of growing up that, at his stage of life, may have to suffice as its own reward.

There's romance aplenty in that, and more in the thrill of the music itself, sung by Bridges and by the gifted young Irish actor Colin Farrell, who plays Tommy Sweet, a former protege who has eclipsed his mentor and leapt to stardom. When these two men, pulled apart by jealousy and bad blood, take to the stage at a sold-out concert for an impromptu duet of a song written by Bad, we feel not only the excitement of watching two sexy actors perform, but the redemptive power of watching two men reconciled by the music they're making together.

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