Movie Review: Crazy Heart
His guitars and his panoply of hats stowed in the back of his car, Bad Blake, a country great fallen on hard times, is criss-crossing the southwest of the United States, playing in bars and bowling alleys with a different band every night, finding his comfort in whisky and whichever female fan takes his fancy in a series of run-down motels. He has four ex-wives and a son he doesn’t know, while the singer he mentored has a road crew and a bus and doesn’t want to make another album with Blake.
Then one night Blake meets Jean Craddock, a young woman just starting out as a journalist, and begins an unsteady romance that will take Blake through joy, despair and ultimately to a redemption very difficult to the one he is hoping for.
Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal have both received Oscar nominations for their performances as Blake and Craddock in “Crazy Heart”, but while Bridges is in the running for best actor in a leading role, Gyllenhaal’s nomination is for best supporting actress. That's very revealing: this is not a love story, it’s a portrait of one man, a vehicle for a remarkable performance by Bridges, surrounded by a cast of almost entirely underdeveloped characters. It’s also unsurprising that it’s the actors and not the film that have received the nominations – you’ve heard the story before, even if not in a country music setting.
Musically, “Crazy Heart” is more interesting. The score is by T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton, it contains songs by Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Lightnin’ Hopkins and a host of others. The theme tune, “The Weary Kind”, has already won a slew of awards and seems almost a certainty for the Oscar for best original song for Burnett and Ryan Bingham.
Though it doesn’t exactly present an alternative view of country music, the film does try to distinguish between the country machine of Nashville and the dedicated but underrecognised songwriters and performers who have been spat out by the machine or never managed to get in there in the first place, but still keep going. Early in the film, Gyllenhaal interviews Bridges, giving him the opportunity to set the music in context and mention a whole load of country stars of the past. Sadly, he never answers the question “In today’s world of artificial country music, who is real country?”
The country music is relentless but is balanced with less overwhelming parts of the score amid soaring shots of the desert landscape in which the story is primarily played out.
Bridges did his own singing in the film, as did the actor playing Blake’s protégé, Tommy Sweet, of whose success his mentor can only cling on the coattails. The producers chose to keep that actor a mystery and his name was kept out of all the pre-publicity, but since he’s all over the internet now... it’s Colin Farrell, and he makes a pretty good go of portraying the successful country star who wants to remember his roots but is buffeted by agents and record companies and, if he’s honest, likes the success.
Music movies always leave you wanting more – more music, at least. The musician embarks on a song, gets through a verse and a chorus and then the song fades out and the plot moves on. “The Weary Kind” is there in snatches over and over, first in the hands of Bridges as he writes the song throughout the second half of the film; then sung onstage by Farrell; but only as the credits roll do you get to hear the whole thing, this time performed by Bingham.
Bingham himself gets a brief role in the film, and a chance to sing, as the leader of band-for-hire Tony and the Renegades. But it is a fleeting appearance.
Go see this film for the music, for a very cute performance by a very small child and for Bridges’ performance that should see him win the Oscar after four previous nominations. For strong plot, look elsewhere.
“Crazy Heart” opens in London and Ireland on February 19 and across the UK on March 5.
To see the video of "The Weary Kind", click here.