Crazy Heart: Jeff Bridges delivers a gripping portrayal
I've always liked Jeff Bridges, but I don't ever think about the fact that he is such a great actor--or at least not often. But wow. Jeff Bridges is some kind of wonderful--he is The Dude. Part of the reason this didn't occur to me earlier is probably because he always sinks into his roles so completely. Unlike Tom Hanks, (who, no matter the role, is always Tom Hanks), Bridges is a chameleon. You simply focus on his characters, not the performances behind them.
In Crazy Heart, Bridges plays a washed-up, country music legend named Bad Blake. Blake had his heyday back in the seventies, but is now reduced to playing shows at small bars and bowling alleys in order to try and make ends meet, and the fact that he's an alcoholic doesn't really help things either. But during a stop in Santa Fe, he is interviewed by a local reporter, Jean Craddock (the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal). The two flirt, and eventually begin seeing each other. The rest of the movie follows their relationship, as Bad Blake tries to get his life back on track.
Sounds kind of boring, doesn't it? I agree; if I had just read a plot description like this one, I would have absolutely no desire to see the movie. But then again, this isn't a movie about plot. It's a character study, and Bad Blake, at least in Bridges' hands, is a character very much worth getting to know.
In a movie that depends so utterly on one performance, it's impossible to overstate this--Jeff Bridges is marvelous. He makes Blake believable. Everything he does and says sounds completely real. This is what the film has going for it: by not being plot-driven, it can meander in ways unexpected and interesting--just like real life.
The chemistry between Bridges and Gyllenhaal is so perfect and so organic that their relationship is entirely convincing. The whole "young woman falls in love with old damaged guy and helps him redeem himself" gambit is horribly clichéd, and I was worried that this movie was going to fall into the same pitfalls as a dozen others--but it doesn't, not by a long shot. I completely bought the feelings the two have for each other and the types of decisions they make about their relationship. It is the mark of two actors working at the top of their game, and it was a pleasure to witness. Robert Duvall shows up for a small, very entertaining part as one of Blake's oldest friends. Colin Farrell is in the movie too as a former protégé of Blake's who has gone on to hit Garth Brook's level of country superstardom. Both liven up every scene they are in.
While I'm on the topic, a quick word about Colin Farrell: the guy is actually a really good actor. Based on his early movies, like American Outlaws and SWAT (both of which I've seen, sadly), you would never be able to tell he has talent. Yet starting a couple years ago with In Bruges, Farell has exclusively done smaller movies that allow him to truly act, and he has consistently been excellent in them. Crazy Heart simply keeps the streak going.
It should be said that the movie itself is merely good, not great, although in the hands of less capable actors, it would have been a borderline snoozefest. This is a deliberately slow-paced film--sometimes to a fault. No one dies, there are no explosions, there are no chase sequences. Nothing big happens at all. So, it is realistic in this regard, but it isn't a movie I would recommend watching when you are tired. You have to put a bit of effort in to enjoy it. The reason you watch and care is because of the performances, not because of the script or direction.
Is this, as many critics acclaim, Jeff Bridges' best role ever? No, I don't think so. Of all the movies I have seen him in, I would probably place it third, (after The Fisher King and The Contender). But that's just the proof in the pudding. If a role as awesome as this one isn't the best performance of his career, it only proves one thing: Jeff Bridges is one hell of an actor.