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Crazy Heart (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 111 minutes.

Not for children.

This is a film that almost didn’t get distributed. Fox Searchlight picked it up and took a chance and we should all be thankful that they did because it is without any doubt one of the best films of the year.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper (in his debut) from a novel by Thomas Cobb, 57-year-old Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) still lives his life out on the road, playing long-ago #1 hits in third-rate beer joints and bowling alleys to aging crowds as drunk as he is, while his fleeting fame slides into obscurity.

One gig blurs into the next until one night in Santa Fe when Bad meets local journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mom, and falls for her. They continue winding up in each other’s arms, a result I didn’t buy for one second. She’s young and beautiful; he’s old, smelly, dirty, and dirt poor. He’s got nothing that would attract an attractive young woman with obligations.

Finally he gets a break, to open a big concert for his young protégé, Tommy Sweet (an uncredited Colin Farrell), who learned everything he knows from Bad. But Tommy, unlike Bad, managed to become rich and famous from it.

Although Jean’s feelings for Bad didn’t pass the smell test, I could overlook that because the acting, music, and cinematography mesmerized me. All the time I was watching Bad, I never thought I was watching Jeff Bridges. I actually kept thinking of Kris Kristofferson, whom Bridges seemed to be channeling. Bridges gives a performance for the ages here. In fact, the story is basically irrelevant to the pleasure of this movie. This is a film to just sit back and enjoy the music and outstanding acting.

The original music by Stephen Bruton, who passed away on May 11, 2009, and T-Bone Burnett (who also has a producing credit) is sensational. Bridges does all his own singing and, for my money, he could go on tour. Unlike the faux singing that appears in director Rob Marshall’s “musicals” (“Chicago” and “Nine,” in which Marshall creates what looks like music with quick cuts from non-musicians faking it; most actors can sing one or two bars and hit all the notes, given enough takes, as exemplified by Joaquin Phoenix in 2005’s “Walk the Line”), Bridges sings songs all the way through; he’s the real thing.

Farrell sings one song and one duet with Bridges. Farrell’s voice and singing talent live up to the quality of his acting, which is generally good, even when he takes a terrible role like he did in one of Oliver Stone’s many dogs “Alexander” (2004).

Unlike “Alexander” and Stone, however, “Crazy Heart,” is one terrific movie, and, if this movie is any indication, Scott Cooper is a talented director.

December 11, 2009