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Crazy Heart DVD review

Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

Jeff Bridges’ broad and appealing career has earned him a fair amount of credit with a variety of audiences, but for many this indulgent country warbler will smack of the veteran curmudgeon pushing his tab too far. Aiming for authenticity but coming off mawkish and dull, Crazy Heart is one sadly failed attempt to walk the line.

Bad Blake (Bridges) is a burned-out old country singer. Once a chart-topper, the jaded musician is now reduced to endlessly touring under-attended small-town nostalgia gigs. Swaggering about in a sour, drunken haze the grizzly old timer is the very picture of irresponsibility and stubborn refusal to grow up.

Bad is a difficult man to like. Sympathy for an old dog pining for his glory days comes easy enough, but he treats what few fans he still has with arrogant contempt, steadfastly refuses to let go of the rock and roll one-night-stand mentality (no matter how un-trophy-like his conquests get), and basically just acts as though the world has done him so terribly wrong.

And, in that sort of ironic ‘wasted on the young’ way, it has. While Bad toils his golden years away in America’s most unappealing dives, the young guitarist whom he took under-wing at the height of his career, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), has now become a stadium-packing solo artist in his own right. It’s a sore spot for Bad but when his wounded pride becomes less crucial than his wounded bank account he submits to a humbling opening gig at superstar Sweet’s next big show.

As the self-inflicted hits keep coming Bad does eventually catch a break in the form of a rather unbelievable love interest. Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a local journalist in one of the Podunk little towns Bad is fated to drift through, she manages to snag an interview with the ill-tempered musician that spirals off into something more.

Just what magical allure the booze-soaked, haggard old killjoy holds for the woman young enough to be his daughter and pretty enough to do much better, we will probably never know - but this is the shaky foundation upon which the film’s achingly slow plot hinges.

Predictably, Jean is a plucky single-mother and it doesn’t take Bad long to insert himself as a shonky father figure to her cloying young boy. The lovers are ill fated, the unconventional family destined to be dashed, and the harrowing experience will be inevitably transformative; it’s the same old woeful country tune we’ve heard all too often.

Why the desperately predictable, intolerably plodding yarn appealed so strongly to the Academy judges (it took out best actor, song and was nominated for actress) is a mystery. The film is buoyed by solid performances by actors that have all turned in much better in the past, and the camera soaks up all the quirky Americana detail lovingly, but tied to such a laborious script it’s all for nought.

The one mitigating element that might just be completely out of my realm of consideration is the soundtrack. To me every song, belted out by the actors themselves for what it’s worth, sounded like the same boring country moaning that most of the genre seems to comprise of. Perhaps if your understanding of country music runs a little deeper than my own then the film might mean something more. But to my ear it was one of the most unimpressive features that the usually brilliant T-Bone Burnett has produced.       

Chalk it up to my natural distaste for the whole ‘bad boy cleans up’ routine if you like, but Crazy Heart is a profoundly empty experience. Timid, slow, and more maudlin than genuine, I’m having trouble remembering a less appropriately titled film. Then again, maybe I’m just not country enough to get it.

Crazy Heart is in stores now.

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