Saturday, February 27, 2010

‘Crazy Heart’

“Crazy Heart” is like a more uplifting, more satisfying version of 2008’s “The Wrestler.” Where Mickey Rourke played Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a broken down, washed up wrestler, in “Crazy Heart” Jeff Bridges plays a broken down, washed up country singer, Bad Blake. The two movies follow a remarkably similar path—until the end, anyway.

Bridges is outstanding as Blake, a 57-year-old former country star who, when he’s not playing ignominious venues like bowling alleys, divides his time between one-night stands, Spanish television, cigarettes, and bottles of whiskey. His only constant companions are his ’78 Chevy Suburban—about as junked out as he is—and his electric and acoustic guitars.

But, like Rourke’s “Ram,” Blake still loves what he does—he just wishes it paid more. He comes alive on stage, and honors requests for old favorites he’s played hundreds of times. And that’s where this movie really takes off: the music. T-Bone Burnett proves once again why he’s the go-to guy when it comes to soundtracks with a sparkling collection of country and blues choices, along with several fantastic originals he wrote for the film. Bridges is a revelation as a singer—who knew?—with a voice that sounds a little like a Southern version of Huey Lewis. He’s convincing at every musical turn (so's Colin Farrell, for that matter), and first-time director Scott Cooper makes the wise—and all-too rare—decision to let the actor sing live in the scene instead of lip-synching.

In an era where the term “sellout” is thrown around everywhere, “Crazy Heart” has a lot to say about music—how it’s produced and consumed—without making any high-handed judgments either way. Blake makes no bones about his desire to make money from playing and writing music, but he doesn’t want to whore himself out, either. He sticks to his own code of artistic integrity, and it’s fascinating to watch that play out over the course of the film. One of my favorite little scenes occurs when a music journalist (the ever-engaging Maggie Gyllenhaal) asks Blake if he ever gets sick of playing one of his hits. Blake’s response: No way. That song’s been good to him, and he’ll be loyal to it forever. That's just one of many, many more music-related moments to cherish in this film.

Though it mirrors “The Wrestler” in almost every aspect, “Crazy Heart” is different in one critical way: it provides closure. Where “The Wrestler” just sort of … ended, this movie concludes. Not that everything wraps up in a nice, neat little package; Blake’s done too much hard livin’ and made too many bad choices for that to happen. But the main characters have definite arcs. I left the theater supremely satisfied, something that couldn’t be said for my walk out of “The Wrestler.”

I guess having two such similar pictures arrive so close together is why “Crazy Heart” hasn’t earned the type of buzz of the former, and that’s a shame. Don’t miss this show.

Grade: A-

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