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Bridges makes Crazy Heart sing
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Bridges makes Crazy Heart sing

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Crazy Heart
Opening January 8


Former country sensation Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is many things, but a current success isn't one of them. The drunken singer hasn't written a new song in years, so consumed by regret, self-loathing and anger he's driving lonely back roads between Midwestern townships playing gigs in tiny bars and rundown bowling alleys. He's a somebody who's allowed themselves to become a nobody; and while things aren't near as horrible as they could be, to say they're slowly getting there wouldn't be that far off the mark.

Things begin to change when he meets young single mother and small town reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the two striking up an immediate friendship that quickly escalates into intimacy. On top of that, Bad's agent has somehow managed to line his client up with a gig opening for superstar Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), the exposure hopefully helping to revitalize his moribund career.

I'm not going to spend too much time on writer and director Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart. Not because I didn't like it, just the opposite, but more because saying too much about this quiet and emotional drama would ruin a little of its power. This movie doesn't do anything too far out of the ordinary yet somehow still manages to pack an emotional wallop, the strength of its performances speaking so loudly they allow the film to achieve a beauteous elegance.

Still, even though the film is based on a book by Thomas Cobb, its similarity to last year's The Wrestler is actually kind of eerie. Both are tales of redemption about broken men partially redeemed by relationships with good women, each guy ultimately making a poor decision putting this newfound ecstasy in jeopardy. Both concern themselves with the idea of chasing past glories and both have subplots concerning children unsure if they want to connect with a parent they've never known, the thought of making a connection nearly as terrifying as the thought of never having one at all.

Yet Cooper's effort is a strong one. Not since Tender Mercies (which just so happened to star Robert Duvall, the actor's presence here making comparisons inevitable) has a movie gotten right to the very soul of country music so effortlessly, the director achieving a delicate balance between sentiment and appreciation that's solidly genuine. There is a deep, melancholic authenticity that hits home, everything coalescing with the sincerity of an exquisite lyric sung with aged authority.

Bridges is wonderful. He isn't playing Bad Blake so much as he is the man incarnate. One of my all-time favorite actors, Bridges disappears inside the character so completely the film almost plays like a documentary. Along with Colin Firth's superb work in A Single Man this is debatably 2009's finest piece of acting and I can only imagine what I would have thought about the picture had Cooper gone in a different direction and cast someone else in the part.

I think I'm going to leave things at that. Less is more where it comes to Crazy Heart, and as that works blissfully for the director I think it will work just as well in the case of a review. While there are pieces I would have liked to have been handled a little differently (including a scene near the end that doesn't gel at all), overall this is a movie to be savored and enjoyed as the simple music-driven melodrama for which it is. Sure the song it sings is familiar, but just because that's so doesn't make it any less great, and if I had my way this is just the type of effort I'd love to fill my iPod playlist with.

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