Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 29 January 2010
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Nothing special happens in the film Crazy Heart and that’s part of what’s so special about it. The story of an aging, fading country singer, drinking and smoking to excess while playing seedy lounges and bowling alleys is indeed familiar, almost predictable.
Or you may think it is. Then you meet Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) and you discover the person under the cowboy hat. He sucks on whiskey, puffs on what seems like one continually burning cigarette and plays the small room for fans his age and older, the only population, it seems, who remembers him.
The backup band differs from place to place until they become one nameless group of faces, instruments and abilities. The songs, however, remain the same. Playing the old hits from his glory days is what keeps the spark in Blake, along with the occasional one-night stand initiated by the local barfly.
That all changes when he is interviewed by Jean, (Maggie Gyllenhaal) the niece of a keyboardist in one of his backup bands. She’s a reporter for a Santa Fe newspaper who visits the singer to capture a story and eventually, the heart of her subject. Blake falls hard, and this time it’s for reasons other than convenience or drunken pliability.
Things begin to look up when Blake’s manager (James Keane) books him to open for his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) a wildly popular singer whose star has risen as far as Blake’s has fallen. There’s talk of a comeback album and of recording a duet; a chance for Blake to experience real money again.
Blake has a history of several marital mishaps, a son he’s never met, and a best friend, Wayne (Robert Duvall) who counts on him to play his bar when he’s home in Houston and not on the road in his beloved 1978 Suburban Silverado.
Then there’s the blossoming romance with Jean and her four-year-old son, Buddy (Jack Nation) who Blake gets close to before dropping a ball he’s not used to handling – responsibility. He pays a price for this lapse.
Blake wants to be a better man for Jean and her son, so he sobers up. Whether that makes a difference or even lasts, I’ll leave for you to discover, along with Bad’s real first name.
There are no celestial highs or plunging lows here, but what transpires is a natural rhythm of human emotion, involvement and evolution.
If you’re looking for either a happy ending or a sad one, you won’t be disappointed by the bittersweet but decidedly un-action-packed finish to the story. You can’t predict this one because it adheres to the slings and arrows of real life so well that it doesn’t need swat-team embellishments, death scenes, or other melodramatic plot devices to surge forward; the true moments are captured and supported as easily and believably as the guitar slung from one of Blake’s shoulders.
Jeff Bridges channels the spirit of Bad Blake so well, it’s hard to imagine him in any of his previous roles. The character conforms to his persona like a pair of well-worn jeans, and he makes the film’s center a likeable, drowning artist in need of a life preserver -albeit one who is just as likely to throw it back at you if you offer him one.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is a steadying force as the single mother who influences Blake to try to crawl out of his bottle. Colin Farrell is vocally impressive as the bravado-filled, mega-star Tommy Sweet, though difficult to believe as a country boy – his brand is too distinct (both Bridges and Farrell did their own vocals for the film). Robert Duvall is comfortable in his familiar role as the nostalgic, aging co-hort, likely to break into song or offer advice at the tip of a cowboy hat. James Keane is a comic gem as the pushy, much maligned manager to his difficult client.
Adapted from co-writer Thomas Cobb’s novel of the same name, writer/director Scott Cooper’s feature debut is big on heart, crazy or not. Crazy Heart turns out to be the title of one of Blake’s new songs, by the way. His quiet, troubled, numbed life that subsequently blossoms into a more real one (thanks to Jean) inspires the composition.
Original songs by T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton persuade the viewer to appreciate the spirit of country, whether they’re fans or not – no small feat in a land filled with hip-hop, techno, and house music devotees.
Hearts do have beats, after all. Bridges supplies the rhythm, and we get to appreciate what he brings to life.