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Film Review

Crazy Heart

What could be more American than country and western music? Its sad lyrics of drinkin', lovin', cheatin', loneliness and heartbreak, virtually define an important segment of American culture. Originally music of the poor and working class, it has become mainstream in various incarnations. Scott Cooper, in a brilliant first film, has written and directed the story of a gifted song writer/musician, Bad Blake, played by Jeff Bridges, in the best performance of his lifetime. Bridges is incandescent here, as an alcoholic wreck of a man, 57 years old, who has left little but sadness behind him, except for his songs. He has gone through at least 4 wives, and usually sleeps with an aging groupie after each gig. He is reduced to playing in bowling alleys and cheap bars, backed by pickup bands, and is now barely functional as he drives across the Southwest in his beat up Suburban. One scene summarizes his condition as he suddenly leaves the stage to vomit outside in a garbage can. At a bar in Santa Fe, the piano player persuades Blake to allow his niece, a journalist interested in music, to interview him. While in his cheap motel, nearly drunk, wrapped in a towel, someone knocks on his door. The journalist, Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, comes in and begins to ask him questions. He likes her interest and becomes interested in her himself, but she deflects his clumsy hits. Jean has a history of her own, including her 4 year old son Buddy, and by her own admission, bad judgement with men. But she is fascinated by Blake, despite the big age difference. And Blake likes her son. But Crazy Heart, like life, is full of surprises. The film's dialog is very well written and snappy: Blake says to Jean "you make this room look bad". And "It's good to be here, at my age it's good to be anywhere".

With this background, Blake's tough but good agent persuades him to do a show with Tommy Sweet, a wildly popular country singer, who Blake mentored. Blake at first refuses, but needs the money, and does the show. Although Blake is convinced that Sweet left him in the dust and is ungrateful, in fact Sweet readily acknowledges that he would not have had his career without Blake's help and songs, and urges Blake to write more songs. Colin Farrell, almost unrecognizable here, plays Tommy Sweet. There is so much talent in this film: Robert Duvall, one of the film's producers, plays a good ole boy, a good old friend of Blake. There is a wonderful, quiet scene of the two, sitting in a small boat, fishing and talking. Much of the film is like this scene, understated, but resonant and honest, with an authenticity rare in American films. The camera work is outstanding, from gorgeous scenes of the Southwest to the closeups of the characters. When we see Bridge's weathered face, nearly always unshaven, with scraggled hair, we are seeing a wreck, a tragic character that in his own way, is as noble as any classical figure. Crazy Heart, the perfect title, would be a fine film even without the music, but the music is wonderful, with some great country songs, and is as important as any of the actors. Cooper has given us a powerful and sensitive look at a life and a culture, very reminiscent of The Wrestlers, with its underlying theme of regret for a wasted life and the attempt to heal and make amends. Crazy Heart is a great start to the New Year, so don't miss this in the theater. Playing at the Embarcadero now. Have a good New Year, filled with peace, health, happiness, and prosperity, in that order.

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