Bridges brilliant as boozy, broken-down Bad Blake
By Bill Goodykoontz
Jeff Bridges' portrayal of broken-down, liquored-up country singer Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart" may be the best of his career, and that's saying something.
The besotted country crooner is a movie trope. And why not? When done well — in Robert Duvall's Oscar-winning turn in "Tender Mercies," for example — you get to cover so many bases: pain, regret, remorse, recovery. Duvall shows up in "Crazy Heart" as a bar owner, but Bridges' performance is so powerful we're not distracted by Duvall's previous work as Mac Sledge.
When we meet Bad, he's a has-been of his own making. He's playing shows in bowling alleys, crisscrossing the west in an old truck that's as worn out as he is. A former star, he now has reached the place in his life and career where he occasionally has to leave the stage abruptly, letting his backing band — local musicians hired for the night — soldier on while he hustles outside to vomit.
But his songs endure, largely through the efforts of country superstar Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), for whom Bad was a mentor. Now, however, Bad's combination of booze and jealousy keeps Tommy at a distance, even though he wants to help Bad.
At a gig in Santa Fe, Bad meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a local reporter and single mother to whom Bad grants an interview. You can probably guess where this is going — originality isn't director Scott Cooper's strong suit (he also wrote the screenplay, based on Thomas Cobb's novel).
Bad falls for Jean, Jean falls for Bad, he bonds with her adorable son. Where this will lead is pretty obvious, but if the destination isn't a surprise, the journey can be, thanks to Bridges' performance.
Bad is simply a drunk. But we don't feel sorry for him; Bridges won't let us. Despite a life full of bad decisions (a string of busted marriages, for instance), he's still ornery enough to fight with his manager over better bookings and, thanks to Jean's inspiration, still talented enough to write great songs.
Bridges and Farrell do their own singing, quite effectively.
The songs, written by Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett, are perfect, just the kind of thing Bad would write.
For someone who has been around so long, Bridges remains underrated. "Crazy Hearts" probably will change that, and it should.
Bridges doesn't just play Bad, he inhabits him, making him believable, from his notable entrance (evidently he doesn't like to use rest stops) to his relationship with Jean's son and singing and playing onstage.
You want Bad to get better, to succeed. Everyone around him does. But as Bridges makes clear, for that to happen, Bad has to want it more than anyone else.