"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Thursday, May 6, 2010

DVD of the Week: Crazy Heart

In 2010, Jeff Bridges finally received an Academy Award for acting after several previous nominations over the years and a long, illustrious career chock full of diverse roles in films as varied as the murder mystery Cutter’s Way (1981), big-budget science fiction with Tron (1982), playing a gifted musician alongside his real-life brother Beau in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), a cult film stoner comedy with The Big Lebowski (1998), and even playing the President of the United States in The Contender (2000). Bridges’ best films are character-driven ones where he is allowed to fully immerse himself in a role. Crazy Heart (2009) is that kind of a film. Made independently for little money, it almost did not come out in time for end of the year awards consideration but once word got around of Bridges’ gritty, heartfelt performance, the accolades (and awards) came flooding in and deservedly so for the veteran actor.

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a burnt-out country and western musician who travels endless stretches of highway all over the United States just so he can play a bowling alley in some dead-end part of a town in New Mexico. In between gigs, he lives his life in a bottle of alcohol, the only thing that seems to keep him going and what is also destroying his world-weary body. It’s safe to say that Blake has definitely seen better days.

While doing a gig in Santa Fe, he agrees to be interviewed by Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the niece of a local musician he’s playing with and a writer for a small newspaper. There’s something about her that catches his eye and makes her stand out from the countless women he’s had flings with – maybe it’s her knack for initially resisting his sweaty, boozy charms. They begin a relationship and he starts to think about finding a way out of the self-destructive grind that is his life.

Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job transforming himself into the grizzled, bloated mess that is Blake. He’s one of those rare actors not afraid to look awful if the role calls for it. You can see the toll that Blake’s hard-drinking, hard-living life has taken on him etched all over Bridges’ face. The actor brings his customary authenticity to the role, including singing and playing Blake’s music.

He’s ably supported by the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal as the woman in his life who decides to take a chance on him even though she knows what a trainwreck he is, Robert Duvall as an old friend of Blake’s who helps him get sober, and an uncredited Colin Farrell as his more successful protégé and who tries to help out his old mentor. They are all very good in this film, especially Farrell who also did his own singing and playing.

With Crazy Heart, writer/director Scott Cooper juxtaposes old school country with the slick sound of new country as represented by Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), who has gone on to sell out arenas while Blake is still playing two-bit dives. The kind of music Blake plays is no longer popular anymore even though in a perfect world it should be. Ultimately, the film adheres to the tried and true conventions of the redemption story as we wonder if Blake has what it takes to clean himself up and get his life in order. What elevates Cooper’s film from others of its kind is the excellent performances of the entire cast led by Bridges’ fearless turn as a self-destructive man.

Special Features:

There are six deleted scenes clocking in at a total of ten minutes. We see more of Blake on the road performing live, which is a nice addition if only to see Bridges’ musical chops on display. We also see a bit more of Tommy living the good life on tour. Naturally, there is more footage of Blake and Jean’s relationship.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.


  1. A fine review, J.D. I'm looking forward to finally seeing this on DVD. And Jeff Bridges really has had such a wonderfully varied career, one filled with distinct roles. You've listed some excellent ones for this great actor. One of my favorites remains his Lightfoot from THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. Thanks for this, J.D.

  2. R.D., a very good film elevated higher by Bridges fabulous performance and some good music. Bridges deserves the applause for a lifetime career of amazing work. I have admired him since THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Excellent stuff!!!

  3. While I was thrilled to see Bridges finally pick up an Oscar, I was, I admit, kinda bummed that it was for this. While he turns in another typically fine performance, I felt he deserved it for better roles in better films... But that's just me.

  4. le0pard13:

    Good call on THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. I love that one too. I felt that Bridges really played well off Eastwood. What an auspicious debut for Michael Cimino too!


    I'm not a huge country fan but I really enjoyed the music in this film. I've been a fan of Bridges' from waaay back. I think that TRON was probably the first film I was consciously aware of him and have followed his career ever since.

    Mark Salisbury:

    I agree. CRAZY HEART is a good film not a great one and I felt that Bridges' performance transcended the material. Still, it would've been nice to see him have won the Oscar for one of his stronger films. Oh well...

  5. My love for Jeff Bridges is quite extensive. The man can really raise the bar of the material in whatever he touches. I loved Peter Weir's Fearless and Ridley Scott's White Squall largely due to him. Gosh, there are so many others.

  6. Count me in with those who claim here that CRAZY HEART is a "good" film, rather than a great one, but there's no question that Jeff Bridges delivered a stupendous performance in the tradition of Robert Duvall (TENDER MERCIES) Oddly enough, I still believe Bridges' first role as the bully who dates Cybil Shepherd in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) is his greatets ever, as he probes the depth sof that character, but as others have mentioned here, he's enjoyed a distinguished career, and this smoking, booze-soaked turn is a true Bridges showcase.

    As always, real nice work here.

  7. The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    I agree with you, re: FEARLESS, which is an astonishing film and definitely one of Bridges' finest performances to date! Such an underrated film. I haven't seen WHITE SQUALL in ages but I do recall being impressed by the cinematography - the stormy scenes at sea were quite harrowing!

    Sam Juliano:

    Nice mention of TENDER MERCIES, a film that I really feel CRAZY HEART lives in the shadow of, in many respects. Good call on THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. I hadn't thought of that but you're right! As always, thanks for stopping by.

  8. 'Crazy Heart' is a simple but emotionally resonant movie about a 57-year-old alcoholic country singer whose career is on the skids. There's not much to the story.