Like country singing burn-out Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), Crazy Heart lives in the moment. The film exists primarily on the fringes of society and pop culture, in honky tonk bars, bowling alleys, and diners, and there’s an emphasis on the small and fleeting interactions between Blake and the everyday inhabitants he meets. The deep rooted connection between character and setting makes Crazy Heart a true “hang out” film, as Blake’s wayward travels introduces unique bit characters and places just on the other side of nowhere.
After a telling, booze-infused introduction to Blake’s current economic and artistic crisis, someone finally makes an impact on the disillusioned country icon – a young reporter named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Director Scott Cooper avoids big reversals or even revelations with this relationship, taking scenes slowly and casually, until their romantic momentum finally overwhelms the reservations each shares about the other. The naturalistic performances by both Bridges and Gyllenhaal compliment beautifully, even if the script gets bogged down by obvious plot points toward the end. The film unforgivably foreshadows its path too clearly, so it’s no surprise specific dynamic scenes stand above the film as a whole.
Crazy Heart rests fondly in the shadow of Bruce Beresford’s masterpiece Tender Mercies (Cooper even cast Robert Duvall as Blake’s conscious), and the two films seem to be linked by the same charmingly gruff country universe. But unlike it’s forefather, Crazy Heart lacks the genuine pain and anguish of a man on the edge of self-destruction. Even when Blake hits rock bottom, Cooper’s musical cues and script trajectory reassure that a redemptive (if not happy) ending is imminent.
In the end, when the title theme song echoes on the horizon and Blake walks off into the sunset, we’re left with the obvious lessons and morals, a great soundtrack to a man’s life, and an indelible performance by a brilliant actor who’s always been great, Oscar just decided to pay attention this time. Bridges transcends a merely competent film with a burning desire to live off reservation from the mainstream, and this performance becomes another testament to his skill as an artist.