So once again we have survived.

Crazy Heart

tn_crazyheart(pretty big spoilers in this one, sorry)

This is not the romantic one where Christian Slater has a baboon heart, this is the dramatic one where Jeff Bridges may soon need a baboon liver, on account of his country singer lifestyle. I heard alot about CRAZY HEART being good only for Bridges’s about-to-win-an-Academy-Award performance. (Did you know he was also nominated for THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT?) But I thought the movie itself was pretty damn good too, let’s give it some credit please.

mp_crazyheartBridges plays Bad Blake (first name Bad, last name Blake), a legendary and influential country singer now stuck touring small bars, barely getting paid, satisfied just using his small notoriety to get laid by groupies of a class not much higher than you would expect for a singer putting on a show in the back of a bowling alley when it’s not karaoke night. As you might guess he spends more time with whiskey than with people, he hasn’t had a hit record in forever, and he’s not very happy.

Of course it’s a little bit of a redemption story, a not-too-far-fetched comeback, like THE WRESTLER. Hopefully “this year’s THE WRESTLER” will become this year’s “this year’s THE FULL MONTY,” and we’ll have all kinds of underrated actors breaking out topnotch performances in smart low budget dramas about lovable fuckups who’ve seen way, way better days. Bad finds his inspiration when he agrees to do an interview with his piano player’s niece, and she turns out to be Maggie Gyllenhaal. They form a relationship (warning: he fucks her) and when he gets to know her what he really does is get to know himself, etc.

Sounds terrible, actually, but the story and the way it’s told has a certain truth to to it and an understatedness that’s real appealing to me. I should mention that he’s squarely in the old school country mode, you would never see him on CMT, singing on a truck commercial or hanging out with that joker with the “boot in your ass” song, and he would not be one of these people that releases two versions of his album, one regular and one with fiddle. I think I read he’s supposed to be based on a combination of Waylon Jennings and a couple other guys, and they definitely got him looking like Kris Kristofferson and having some of Kristofferson’s poetic touch in his songs. His big hit that he’s known for has a good line about “funny how falling feels like flying for a little while.” I enjoyed the songs and that’s important. A great way to ruin a movie is to make it all about music and then have bad music in it.

Bad has a little bit of a rivalry with a former sideman named Tommy Sweet who has become a modern country superstar. That whole subplot is a good example of why I liked the movie. You keep hearing about this guy and thinking “Who is this prick?” I figured he would be played by some real country singer, I didn’t know he was gonna be Colin Farrell with a ponytail. And when I realized that’s what it was I didn’t know he was gonna pull it off. I wonder if he had to fight for this role, or if somebody had to go to Colin Farrell and say, “Look man, we’re gonna teach you how to sing country songs. Seriously. You should do this.”

I'm not crazy, right? Looks exactly like Kris Kristofferson.
I’m not crazy, right? Looks exactly like Kris Kristofferson.

When Bad swallows his pride and agrees to open for Tommy Sweet there’s a great scene where he pulls his shitty truck into the secure parking lot and parks next to Tommy’s vehicles – a couple gargantuan black tour buses and a fleet of big rigs. And you just know that’s exactly what this fucker would really have. (And sure I enough I read afterwards that they shot this stuff at a Toby Keith concert.) Bad Blake is the legend, the one who gave him his career, the one who does better music, and this fucking truck is his reward. This shows how society values him compared to his young protegee.

But then it gets better. You expect Tommy to be an asshole. You want him to be an asshole. But he’s obviously genuine. During Bad’s opening act Tommy sneaks onto the stage and joins him, and the crowd goes nuts. It’s kind of humiliating for Bad… it’s like, they only give a shit about him if the guy they came for comes out there with him. And he’s stealing his spotlight. And also, by the way, they want Bad to sit at his merch table later and sell CDs. But you know what, when Tommy says this is the guy who taught him everything he knows you know he means it. You can’t be mad at him. He seems like a really nice guy, actually.

And then, from this crazy night playing at a huge outdoor arena, it cuts to Bad all by himself the next day, parked on a desert highway, talking on a payphone in the glaring sun. And even though I have never opened for Tommy Sweet at the such and such casino amphitheater in whereverthefuck, middle of America, I felt like I knew exactly that feeling of some crazy shit goes down and then the next day you come down to regular life. You were on such a high and it seemed so huge and now everything’s normal again. Though your ears are still ringing a little. But it’s hard to believe that was just yesterday. Almost like it never happened.

The part about alcoholism is not nearly as ugly or depressing as it could be, but it got me tense. You just sit there waiting for him to fuck up. But part of why he’s still around is because he’s functional, and that’s why the movie’s not torture to watch either. He keeps doing better than you expect. There is genuine suspense over whether or not he’s gonna remember to dedicate a song to a fan he met earlier. I guess it’s debatable whether he did good by that fan or not (you’ll see). But it’s not a “wouldn’t you know it, dad got distracted and forgot to show up to the recital” type of movie. The specifics of his failure are not very predictable. You never know when and how he’s gonna horribly disappoint somebody.

But as soon as he’s taking care of a little kid you’re like, oh jesus, do I really want to watch this? And then he keeps doing better than expected. When he finally (SPOILER) misplaces the kid like some car keys it’s almost too upsetting. But it’s a pretty good rock bottom moment to motivate him to get clean. I mean, that would be pretty embarrassing to lose somebody’s kid. You know how people are about those things. Real protective. They can get uptight about shit like that.

To be perfectly honest I have not seen the baboon heart one so it would not be fair to say that this is the better of the two. But I would be surprised if that was as good as CRAZY HEART. I really enjoyed this one.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, March 6th, 2010 at 3:41 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

26 Responses to “Crazy Heart”

  1. What time is it where you are when you post these? It’s like you are on Australian time for a writer.

    Anyways, biggest spolier there is that it’s not a Kris Kristofferson movie. I was really looking forward to this one expecting better version of Walk the Line but on Kris (who is even more interesting than Cash IMO) so really disappointed at first, but sounds to be every bit as good as ‘that’ movie anyway, just not it. At least when they do get to that movie next decade after Kris dies they will have a lead ready to roll.

  2. Nice review, Vern. Speaking of Colin Farrell, have you seen his dark comedy Hitman movie IN BRUGES? He’s really good in that, as are Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Feinnes.

  3. One of my favorite films of last year. Besides just the low budget, smart, indies about fuckups, I hope we see more movies where directors understand that understating some things is so much more effective than all the CGI in the world. Amazing that this director was a first time director, even though he has been acting for quite some time and gets to call Robert Duvall his mentor. Even though I know the Oscars are pompous and political, cannot wait to see Jeff Bridges acceptance speech.

  4. I liked this movie a lot, primarily because of Jeff Bridges. Maybe I’m not giving the movie itself enough credit, but for it to have any impact, Bridges had to be great — and he is. Everything that’s been said about this performance is spot on and he is fully deserving of the Academy Award, if he does win (and all signs point to a big fat YES there). Personally, I’d prefer Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker, but if Bridges takes it there’s no way to complain.

    I liked the songs too — this is country, but it’s the kind of country music I could actually listen to (and I did get the soundtrack from iTunes and have listened quite a bit), stuff with a big guitar and bass sound, real momentum. I dug his guitar a lot, that big old Gretsch, even though I’m a Les Paul guy myself. I actually think that “Fallin’ and Flyin” is a better song that the nominated “The Weary Kind,” but maybe that’s just me. “Somebody Else” (the first one he does at the bowling alley) is really good too.

    What I didn’t like was Maggie Gyllenhall. I’m not going to say she ruined the film, because her performance is solid, but I just don’t think she was right for the role. I know they make a point about her character having a history of falling for the wrong guy, but you don’t see that, you’re told. And that leaves her falling for this self-desctructive, alcoholic, basically chain-smoking crumb-bum (albeit talented crumb-bum) as a big stretch. I don’t think Gyllenhall is beautiful, but she just looked too well-preserved to get into a guy like that. She needed to chain-smoke and have a few tattoos or something.

    But anyway. Good flick if you like good acting. It’s funny to me how my tastes have changed over the years. The younger me would’ve loved Avatar and wouldn’t have touched this movie with a ten-foot pole. The current me hasn’t seen Avatar and really liked this. Weird.

  5. Really liked this movie. Not much of a fan of Maggie myself, but Colin Farrell was damn good.

  6. Maggie G. deserved the nomination for AWAY WE GO this year, not this. Not that she’s bad in this, but in AWAY WE GO she plays that new-age-nutbar we’re all familiar with to the point of perfection.

    Anyway I really liked this one and agree with the review. I kept hearing how “Jeff Bridges is really good but the movie is just OK”, and I definitely think Bridges elevates the movie above what it would have been with most other actors, but I think that evaluation sells the film a little short. I think the movie is really good because it presents a compelling character with the understated naturalism you guys are talking about and then gives us a complete story about him. And even the music catchy, in fact way better than the radio country I hear from time to time. Which really gave the movie a lot of pull with me, it’s not like they were trotting out an actor who couldn’t really sing and songs that sounded made for a certain Academy and trying to make us believe that he was some country legend. Also this reminded me of TENDER MERCIES, especially with Duvall in there. You should check that one out if you haven’t seen it Vern, it’s even better than this one.

  7. ps. I dunno if any of you folks have seen Mr. Jeff Bridges’ website (www.jeffbridges.com) but I recommend checking it out, he is a true jeff of all trades and has some pretty cool photography from the sets of Iron Man and Crazy Heart amongst other stuff on there.

  8. Jareth Cutestory

    March 6th, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Gwai Lo: Like when Dennis Hopper was nominated for HOOSIERS the same year BLUE VELVET was released. I still laugh when I think about that one; it says everything I need to know about award shows.

  9. There’s multiple cases of it this year. Penelope Cruz is getting a nod for fucking NINE when she was in the critically adored BROKEN EMBRACES this year. I thought BROKEN EMBRACES was Almodovar-lite but I hate how a movie like NINE is prefabricated for awards consideration and takes the cake over a better film that no one saw because it’s foreign. Matt Damon gets a supporting nod for playing the co-lead in INVICTUS, and happened to turn in a way more complex performance in THE INFORMANT! this year, which was recognized for absolutely nothing.

    But man there were a bunch of dark horse performances this year that I hoped would get Oscar attention that didn’t. Tom Hardy in BRONSON. Nicolas Cage in THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS. Sam Rockwell in MOON. Viggo Mortensen in THE ROAD. Tahar Rahim in A PROPHET. Peter Capaldi in IN THE LOOP. Michael Fassbender in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Charlotte Gainsbourg in ANTICHRIST. Anne Dorval in I KILLED MY MOTHER. Kim Hye-Ja in MOTHER. Emily Blunt in THE YOUNG VICTORIA. And the aforementioned Maggie Gylenhaal in AWAY WE GO.

    And it’s not like they couldn’t have cleared out some space in the acting categories when you have crapfests like THE LOVELY BONES and NINE taking up slots.

  10. SPOILERS: The script for CRAZY HEART apparently ends with Bad falling back off the wagon after he tries unsuccessfully to win Maggie G back. Also there is a scene where he meets his son.

  11. Porkchop express

    March 6th, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Hey everyone in Americaland. Porkchop reporting from London with a request for vern to review dead man shoes by filmatist Shane meadows. I think it could be classed as BADASS cinema. Keep the reviews coming. Good work

  12. Jareth Cutestory

    March 6th, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Gwai Lo: At the very least, THE INFORMANT! should have been nominated for score. That score was a character in the film.

    Gainsbourg and Mortensen gave the two performances that affected me the most last year. Only the exclusion of THE ROAD surprised me. I was surprised by the snubbing of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE too.

    Nice call on “Almodovar-lite.” I enjoyed the film, but it ain’t his top tier work.

  13. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE should have at least gotten a nod for costume design, but the category favors people in dresses and shit. And I’m not sure where the costume design ended and the special effects begun with those wild things. Pretty seamless, however they did it. I believed those wild things physically existed.

  14. Long as we’re talking about about snubs for the year, how about Sam Rockwell in Moon?

  15. Sounds like a cleaner version of PAYDAY starring Rip Torn. Interesting.

    Glad Bridges will score an award for CRAZY HEART, the same way Mel did for BRAVEHEART. I don’t think Sean Connery got one for DRAGONHEART, did he? Van Damme certainly went nowhere with LIONHEART.

  16. Interesting – I thought that Maggie Gyllenhall was bad in Away We Go, but I hold the script accountable for that. Her entire role was just a broad, farcical swipe at New Age / Neo-hippie oh-wowism that dealt in idiotic stereotypes and provided zero insight or depth and I hated it.

    I haven’t read any Dave Eggers, but if that script is typical of his material then I’ll be fine without. If I come across as insulted, I’m not, my own outlook is nothing like that–but seeing that sort of lazy, sniggering writing win acclaim just bugs me.

    I’m glad Bad Blake got some degree of redemption at the end of Crazy Heart, BTW — I wouldn’t have enjoyed the movie nearly as much if it had ended with him where he began.

  17. Jareth Cutestory

    March 7th, 2010 at 9:02 am

    dieselboy: In addition to Rockwell, Tahar Rahim gave a strong performance in A PROPHET.

  18. One Guy From Andromeda

    March 7th, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Can’t say i was too crazy about this one. Pretty much a by the numbers oscar baiter if you ask me – sure, maybe not as hackneyed as something like that Sandra Bullock takes care of a black kid movie, but still. Too many cute child goes ballooning to uplifting music moments for my taste. Don’t think anyone will remember this movie in half a year’s time.

  19. Tom – I was OK with the one dimensionality of Maggie G’s character in AWAY WE GO because I know people like that. Maybe it’s because I worked at a health food store for years, but I thought she nailed a certain type of flake that I’m very familiar with. Easy target maybe, stereotypical maybe, but it was true to me.

  20. I know the sort–in general terms–fairly well myself, given how the Grateful Dead experience runs in my family and the few years I spent on the jam scene that the Dead, basically, created. But in the Away We Go script I found it shallow and smugly mocking. “We’re against strollers, man.” “We let our kids share our bed and even stay there while we have sex, man.” That kind of stuff–it all felt like low-hanging fruit. It was like metal on metal to me, but to each their own.

    I can’t decide which character was worse from that movie, the Maggie G. one or Allison Janney, who was so coarse and loud and stupid and irritating. I know we weren’t supposed to be sympathetic toward the character, but again, the writing just felt cheap and easy while attempting to present itself as profound. I felt like the writers were wagging their fingers in my face the whole time.

  21. While I’m here, one comment I meant to make about Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart — I didn’t quite understand when Roger Ebert said his acting is “as clear as water” or something like that, but now I think I do.

    This is not a very showy performance, unless you count the musical scenes. There isn’t much in the way of big emoting, unless you count hurling into a garbage can or toilet. Even when Maggie leaves him or his son doesn’t want to talk to him, he doesn’t overplay it.

    It’s really what I would consider a perfectly modulated acting performance, very sharply observed and full of great details, like walking around his fly undone. Bad Blake just feels like a real guy.

  22. to: Gwai Lo
    re: Original ending of script

    I went to a screening of “Crazy Heart” where the producers (including Bobby Duvall!) did a Q&A afterwards. IIRC they said that the original book that the movie was based on ended with Bad Blake relapsing, but when they wrote the script they knew they needed a more uplifting ending. They went ahead and shot the scene of him lying in a ditch all fucked up, and included it in the rough cut, but as soon as they saw it they all knew it was unnecessary – that it was one beat too many of him being a fuckin’ drunk, you already get it, let’s move on with the story. The right call, in my opinion.

  23. Yeah, I like that it doesn’t end with him in the ditch. The too-happy ending would have been him getting his girl back, re-uniting with his son and reclaiming his fame. Instead I think they struck the right balance at the end, he’s up some and down some.

  24. Thanks to those who answered the question I had after watching the DVD, which includes outtakes (Bad’s relapse among them), and which made me wonder whether that was the original ending of the film. In my opinion all three possible endings (he gets the woman and child back; he screws up and ends up laughing/crying in the mud; he doesn’t get the girl but is clean and sober) are not horribly acceptable. The girl and her boy are very possibly the only two humans he’s ever truly loved. Then so what if he’s clean and sober? For what? While it’s the ultimate downer, I think it’s more believable that, given losing these contacts with humanity, he’d end up spread-eagled like Christ on the cross in that mud, a man who’s dying for his own–not our-sins.

  25. Thank you for your insightful and articulate review of “Crazy Heart. I just watched the film last night — skipped it until now because of the so-so reviews of the plot. I agree with all your points and have enjoyed reading the comments. Look forward to reading more of your stuff!

  26. I had to take the time to compliment you on your review. Your writing had me nodding my head in agreement and laughing when I was caught thinking the same thing. I did secretly hope Maggie and Bad would have a second chance. Like you, I agree “Good flick”.

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