January 28, 2010

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Crazy Heart (R)
Country music can be really good — so we are reminded by Crazy Heart, a movie that also has a rich and enjoyable portrait of an aging former country star and his various vices.

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), the aging Texas blues/country musician at the center of this movie, plays music of the Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings/1970s-country variety. Jennings, along with Lucinda Williams, Buck Owens and George Jones, appears on the soundtrack. If you hear this and think country, this movie, for musical reasons alone, will interest you. (And if the fact that T-Bone Burnett, a producer on this movie and still beloved in some quarters for his work on O Brother Where Art Thou?, is involved has you half out the door already, then, yes, go.) If you saw the word “country” and are looking for mentions of Taylor Swift and Shania, well, you’ll probably need some discussion of plot.

Bad Blake is your basic drinkin’, womanizin’, good-for-nothin’ geeetar-playing country singer, traveling from gig to gig in his truck and staying in seedy motels, where he spends his days before and after the gig getting falling-over drunk. He’s bringing in short money from this tour and a bit more by selling songs to Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a commercially successful country singer who used to be part of Blake’s band, but he’s managing to drink his way through most of that. At one show, he agrees to do an interview with a local reporter, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a women who knows a little something about hard times herself. She’s single mom-ing it and probably realizes a man named “Bad” is not what she needs in her life but she does consider that he might be what she wants.

This isn’t a movie of shockingly unfamiliar story — I can’t go much farther without giving away all of it and as it is you could probably guess many of the plot points — but it is a movie of well-drawn characters.

Robert Duvall shows up as Bad’s bar-owning dad — always good, as Saturday Night Live satirized so well years ago, at the grizzled old-timer. Farrell’s character is not quite what you’d think and Gyllenhaal isn’t just the one-dimensional girlfriend-type that women can so often be in movies like this. And Bridges, of course,really relaxes into Bad — his faults, his promise, his talent.

Which brings us back to the music, which Bridges and Farrell do a good job of pulling off. The movie’s sound helps remind you that in this heavyrotation world there is much diversity in musical genres. It even gives us an admirable peek into the creative process, but in a way that isn’t as horrible as the phrase “creative process” implies.

Almost certain to garner Oscar nominations (for its music, for Bridges and possibly for Gyllenhaal and maybe even Farrell), should Crazy Heart bring home a couple golden statues, it will feel well-deserved. B+

Rated R for language and brief sexuality. Directed and written by Scott Cooper (from a novel by Thomas Cobb), Crazy Heart is an hour and 51 minutes long and distributed by Fox Searchlight.