“Crazy Heart,” directed and written by Scott Cooper, features a larger than life character with a Mount Rushmore face and a constitution that’s about to crumble. Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a performer/composer whose songs provide safe, vicarious pleasure for fans of his music, but whose inspiration (his life) slowly breaks him down.
Though his life’s a mess as he travels from town to town, taking cheap and temporary comfort where he can find it, Blake becomes fluid, poetic, and coherent on stage where he miraculously channels songs of sorrow, heartbreak and, at the end, of hope and salvation. He’s been married five times, hasn’t seen his son for over 20 years, and, at 57 years of age, is flat broke. His loyal but pushy Manager (James Keane) wants him to compose songs, appear as opening acts, make some money, but Bad Blake is proud, suffers from a case of alcoholism-induced writer’s block, and weary. His one night gigs bring him adulation from aficionados and solace from groupies but, as the first half of the film shows, he’s winding down, emotionally, physically, and financially. He brightens up (combs his hair, keeps his belt buckled, smiles) when he meets a journalist, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and connects with her five-year-old son, Buddy (Jack Nation). Having found something, someone to believe in, he seems on the verge of turning his life around, even if it means opening gigs and writing songs for the man he mentored, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell).
Cooper’s ending of this powerful film ties all these loose ends together in Sweet’s magnificent rendition of the composed-by-Blake title song, “Crazy Heart.”
Cooper has chiseled a fascinating and detailed character and his direction brings him wonderfully to life. Bridges captures the profound humanity of Bad Blake, his addiction to alcohol, his devotion to his music, his kindness to his fans, and, in spite of overwhelming reasons to do so, his reluctance to surrender. The most amazing thing of this amazing performance is that, with some coaching, Bridges actually sings the songs Blake performs, as does Farrell’s Sweet.
Farrell neatly captures the demeanor of deference of a character who acknowledges his mentor’s role in his huge success; his future looks like it’s paved with gold and he’s perfectly willing to help Blake get back on his feet. The scenes that feature him and Bridges are begrudgingly respectful and their duet was masterful.
Gyllenhaal scores with her characterization of a single mom who’s initially wary of the much older Blake because she’s been burned by drinking men, but who warms magically to his surprising charm and his warm devotion to Buddy. Watching her facial features and her body language as she falls in love with him defies description.
And, in a too-brief appearance, Robert Duvall neatly captures the character of Blake’s buddy Wayne, a recovering alcoholic bartender whose always-on empathy, kindness, and friendship illustrates yet another core facet of Blake’s complex and rich personality: you evaluate a person by the company he keeps.