Film review – Crazy Heart (2009)

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges)
Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges)

Former country music star Bad Blake is a character who is living the sort of life that is so often sung about in his chosen music genre. He’s 57, doing third-rate gigs, smoking too much, drinking too much and basically all washed up. While his former protégée Tommy Sweet has vastly overtaken him professionally Bad barely keeps it together by rehashing old songs from his back catalogue to his small, aging but still devoted fans scattered around country USA. Crazy Heart initially evokes Bruce Beresford’s 1983 Tender Mercies due to the strong similarities between the settings and the films’ leading characters but it is a superior film.

Jeff Bridges gives the performance of his career as Bad. It’s a part that Bridges has been building up to for years while playing various down-and-out heroes and indeed Bad Blake is not too dissimilar to the jazz pianist character he played in the The Fabulous Baker Boys. Such a character could easily be dislikeable but Bridges gives him a cranky charm and sweet sadness. He is frazzled, lives like a slob and very grumpy but the shine in Bridge’s eyes and the cracks in his voice make us love him.

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) and Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal)

The entire cast of Crazy Heart is excellent including Colin Farrell as Tommy Sweet and Robert Duvall as Bad’s old friend Wayne. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a young divorcee who comes into Bad’s life, and it is wonderful to see a strong female character that is allowed to be both emotional and resilient. The development of Bad and Jean’s relationship is one of the many aspects of Crazy Heart that feels incredibly sincere and genuine. Rather than adhering to the sort of classical Hollywood narrative structure that we are accustomed to seeing in such films, Crazy Heart adopts an authenticity that raises it above what could have been a generic tale of redemption.

Then there are the sensational songs, many of which are performed by Bridges and Farrell, written for the film by T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton. The music performed in Crazy Heart actually becomes more engaging and sophisticated during the course of the film as the characters move from performing songs that are reliable old favourites to trying out more emotive and complex material. You don’t need to be a country music fan to enjoy Crazy Heart but there is a good chance you will become one afterwards thanks to this gracefully restrained and sweet drama.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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  1. 2nd worst film I’ve seen!! Made me begin to question RRR’s independence realising as i watched that the film sponsored RRR. Bridges was same as always predictable and type-cast and I know it will hurt you to hear that we can’t be friends but the female lead was average I thought. And the storyline?? Young attractive woman falls instantly in love with smelly drunken bogan 57 year old called Bad!! After the first 30 minutes we came close to our first ever walkout. We had the choice of seeing The Road or Crazy Heart and on your advice we made the wrong decision I think. Maybe I missed something?

  2. My positive review of Crazy Heart (and I’m certainly not the only one who has given this film a positive review) has nothing to do with any sponsor deals that RRR may have. If you are at all familiar with RRR then you’ll know that they are highly selective about their sponsorship and never allow it to have any editorial influence. Furthermore, it was my choice to review Crazy Heart last week on the Thursday Breakfasters because I try to review films that I am enthusiastic about and think the listeners will be interested in. Nobody at RRR asked me to review the film and certainly nobody told me to give my review a particular spin.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this film but maybe go easy on questioning the integrity of an entire community radio station next time?

    In the meantime, I also loved The Road so you probably shouldn’t bother seeing it.

  3. Thanks for your reply Thomas. I have been a paid up supporter of community radio in RRR, PBS, and ZZZ in Brisbane for decades and I highly value their independence and integrity. Unlike the mainstream media I expect these institutions to appreciate scrutiny and comment.
    I would love to see The Road based on yours and others recommendations but as a rural resident I don’t get much chance to see good new movies.
    May I suggest we discuss this issue in more detail at our local music festival, Myrniong Music in the Park on March 13th which I would be delighted if you would attend as our guest. RRR has supported us in previous years through the gig guide. Hope this isn’t seen as a cheap opportunity to plug our event!!

  4. Thanks for your follow-up Mark.

    I’m sure RRR don’t mind scrutiny and comment but my response was a personal one as apart from popping in every Thursday for 5-10 minutes to review a film, I really can’t claim to speak for or represent RRR.

    Thanks for the invitation to Myrniong Music in the Park but I won’t be able to make it as I co-present The Casting Couch on JOY on Saturdays. It does sound like a great event though so enjoy and maybe I can make it next year.


  5. I loved this film for the acting and the music. Yes the story was a familiar one, but rarely has it been told so effectively.

  6. Now here we agree! Yes, the story is familiar but the execution of the story through the acting, music and I would add cinematography, make this film so remarkable.

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