By Aaron Mesh
After finishing a two-night gig in Santa Fe, country legend Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) lounges in the cab of his pickup truck, waiting for the reporter who's going to interview him. When she arrives, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) apologizes for missing his show, but does he have any idea how hard it is to find a babysitter at this time of night? "I get off work at one o'clock in the morning," he drawls. "I know how hard it is to find everything."
As embodied by Bridges in the wondrously calm Crazy Heart (filmed partially in and around Santa Fe), Bad Blake is a man who has found everything hard, and so has given up trying too much. Maybe that's why he spends every day at the bottom of a whisky bottle—when you're trapped there, everybody's expectations of you (including your own) get lowered. On his latest tour of Southwest honky-tonks, simply not embarrassing himself has become what passes for a triumph. "I play sick, drunk, divorced and on the run," he brags, but mostly he plays drunk—that way he can forget that he used to play well.
It is tempting to compare Bad Blake to Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, but actually this performance is organically connected to Bridges' whole career and its demonstration of magnificent ease. In this movie, he even sings, and that too seems to come naturally. His motivations always appear as simple as the tautology Hank Williams Jr. crooned: "Why do you drink? To get drunk."
The movie around him is also at peace. It requires a small suspension of disbelief—would any single mother be attracted to an aging sot?—but that may not be so hard to do, since the performers are so assured. In its high-lonesome way, the film serves as a refutation of last year's The Wrestler and its belief that an old washout equals a sensationalized tragedy. Here, that fate is just part of the strange and funny ride. Just when Crazy Heart seems to be building to a grand crisis, with Bridges crashing into some rock bottom, Robert Duvall arrives and says it's time to go fishing. And they do. And Duvall sings a Billy Joe Shaver song.
Bad Blake does eventually bottom out—and we learn the valuable lesson that it is good to have a bartender with connections to AA—but the final act of the movie seems to luxuriate in the afternoon glow of that fishing trip. The best days, like the best films, are often the ones that don't have too much riding on them.
In the midst of movies that scream about how they are changing movies, Crazy Heart is refreshingly non-essential.
Neither it nor Bridges worries about how each will be remembered.
And, of course, they will be remembered very well. They're gonna live forever. They will abide.
Directed by Scott Cooper
With Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and David Manzanares