CRAZY HEART Movie Review

by Rick Grant
For talented and deserving singer-songwriters, success in the music business is defined by the fickle whims of the record buying public. Some worthy artists fall through the cracks and suffer frustration, bitterness, and turn to drugs or alcohol.
The protagonist in this exemplary film, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) wrote many hit songs and had a successful career as a performer–twenty-five years ago. His music was recorded by many top country artists, including his protégé, Tommy Sweet, played by Colin Farrell.
Now 57, and broke, Blake is trying to crawl his way back to financial solvency by playing any gigs he can get. His come-back is hampered by his chronic alcoholism. Yes, Blake is down and out, but his heart is still in his music.
Incredibly, Jeff Bridges played guitar and sang the songs featured in this movie. His insightful portrayal of Bad Blake will live on as his finest film performance. I was so impressed by Bridges virtuoso characterization of Blake, that I voted the picture into my top five movies of this award season on my SEFCA ballot. Bridges won a Golden Globe and a SAG award. He is a contender for an Oscar.
The movie opens with Blake taking a gig at a bowling ally. The owner refuses to let him run a bar tab and puts him up in a flea bag motel. He hires a local band to back him up and his pay is commensurate with his current status as a washed-up drunk.
So, Blake drowns his sorrows in the bottle and hooks up with an adoring female fan. Yes, Blake has hit rock bottom. Although he is a legendary songwriter, his best work was written years ago. Blake has not recorded any new material in many years. Most people think he’s dead, and the guy performing is a tribute artist, which is another humiliation for Blake to swallow.
The film was written and directed by first-time filmmaker, Scott Cooper whose gritty mosaic and dulled colors matches Blake’s dark moods. However, justifiably, Cooper’s lens focuses on Bridges extraordinary characterization as Blake. Struggling musicians will see a kindred spirit in Blake, who lived to perform. Despite Blake’s drunkenness, when he hit the stage, he came alive and performed flawlessly.
Along the way, Blake meets a journalist, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has a son. Blake hooks up with Jean and falls hard for her. But his alcoholism gets in the way of him having a permanent relationship with her.
This is the push Blake needed to get into a twelve step program to get sober. He’s helped by a friend who owns a bar, Wayne (Robert Duvall). Of course, Blake’s road to sobriety is long and hard with many detours. Then he runs into his protégé, Tommy Sweet, who asks him to do a walk-on and sing one of his songs with him at an upcoming concert. After the show, Sweet wants to record Blake’s new material.
Yes, things are looking up for Blake, but his recovery is marked by setbacks and other factors. Director Cooper never lets the mood get too hopeful, playing to the realism of characters like Blake, who have lost a lot of momentum during his years of drinking. In other words, Cooper kept the underlying cinematic tone dark and foreboding.
Indeed, Bridges multidimensional portrayal of Blake is riveting and very convincing. The story is a realistic chronicle of a truly deserving artist who got lost in the bottle, wasting many years of productivity. The long journey back is fraught with obstacles and frustration. However, in the end, Blake’s heart is in the right place.