On DVD: Crazy Heart

Jeff Bridges owns Crazy Heart, and it's right that he should. This hugely charismatic actor has spent decades delivering riveting, often underrated work - from the teenage Duane Jackson in The Last Picture Show and the big-time sucker Terry Brogan in Against All Odds, to the idealistic automobile manufacturer in Tucker: The Man and His Dream and the indelible personification of the entire last half-century of Californian society and culture in The Big Lebowski. Bridges is an intuitive, committed actor whose remarkable range and enormous appeal have too often been taken for granted. Films like The Door in the FloorFearless, while mostly overlooked upon their initial release, demand both critical and popular reappraisal; both are outstanding films that owe a large part of their respective success to dynamic performances by Bridges. and

Finally, almost forty years after receiving his first nomination for 1971's The Last Picture Show, Bridges has his Oscar. But this is no consolation award of the Scent of a WomanCrazy Heart, and the film is nowhere near half bad, either. variety. Bridges is outstanding in

Bridges plays Bad Blake, a 57-year-old country music singer-songwriter. Blake tours desolate sections of the southwest, playing bowling alleys and saloons. Dissatisfied with the direction his life has taken, Blake spends most days wafting in and out of a drunken haze, barely appreciative of the many committed fans who consider him a legend. In Santa Fe, Blake agrees to an interview with a local newspaper reporter named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Jean is a lost soul, in a way, too, and she and Blake connect almost immediately. While struggling to build a relationship with Jean from the road, Blake contends with the success of his protégée Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), who is now a country superstar playing arenas and traveling with a fleet of tour buses. Sweet wants to help Blake through this low point in his career, but Blake is resistant to such "charity." Eventually, Blake agrees to write songs for Sweet - a sure source of income. Blake's relationship with Jean develops happily, but his drinking becomes an issue - particularly as it concerns his growing presence around her four-year-old son, Buddy. Although Blake confronts his alcoholism, not everything turns out as he had hoped.

Bridges' Bad Blake is a wonderful character, simultaneously flawed, self-hating, and likable. He has a good heart, but is afraid to use it. We know from the outset, even before we hear of Blake's background, that he has seen his share of heartache and personal disaster. Like a lot of great country songs, the script follows Blake in an arc that extends from the gutter to paradise, and back again (well, not quite). Bridges carries the entire film, appearing in every scene, dragging his raggedy bloated carcass around like dead weight. Bridges has always been a physical actor, and his body is on display here in a way that illustrates the sense of careless disregard Blake has for his own well-being. He slouches around, sweaty and unkempt in stained clothing, with his gut hanging out, unashamed, exhausted, and often drunk.

Although the story is not particularly fresh, there is something about the film that is. First-time writer-director Scott Cooper has crafted a tight script that maintains a strict focus on Blake, which in turn allows Bridges to hone a full, rounded performance. Building from that script and working with cinematographer Barry Markowitz, Cooper has shot a visually-cohesive picture that utilizes minimal, elegant camera setups and eschews unnecessary cutting. The visuals constantly remind us that this movie is purely about character and setting. It's an effective, focused approach that gives the actors a lot of freedom while avoiding narrative and visual distraction. Despite a handful of conceptual clichés, Crazy Heart is a well-crafted, immensely enjoyable film. 

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