Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart

Perfunctory. There's just no other word for this movie. Or maybe there is. Let me try. Perfunctory. Stale. By-the-numbers. Routine. Staid. Stolid. And I didn't even have to open my thesaurus.
Crazy Heart revolves around Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a boozy, broken-down country singer travelling around the country, playing small venues for pocket change. His life changes, however, when he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist and single mother who inspires him to change his life. Now, raise your hand if you've heard that plot description before. Crazy Heart sure ain't reinventing the wheel. Now, any story can be elevated by a good script, strong performances, or a unique stylistic view. Sadly, Crazy Heart only has one of these qualities, and even that's stretching it.
Let me say this right now: I don't understand the veritable avalanche of awards that has buried Jeff Bridges this season. His Bad Blake isn't a terrible performance. Best of the year, though? Bridges has all the mannerisms, but none of the soul. His performance is skin-deep. Having seen the film, I still know little about Bad Blake as a human being. He drinks a lot, he performs, every now and again he throws up in the bathroom and cries, but I don't know him. I don't understand him as a human the way that strong performances make possible. The fact that Bridges will almost undoubtedly win an Oscar for this, as opposed to fellow nominees Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Colin Firth (A Single Man), and George Clooney (Up in the Air), as well as other, better, not nominated performances like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer), Sam Rockwell (Moon), Willem Dafoe (Antichrist), Sharlto Copley (District 9) and plenty of others is almost insulting. I understand that these awards are more of a career achievement than for this particular performance, but I admit that I'm not fond enough of Jeff Bridges' career to want to award him over his other, more effective peers. Maggie Gyllenhaal (also Oscar-nominated for this film) fares slightly better. Her character is more of a person and less of an impersonation, and I suppose I'm more OK with her accolade than his. Gyllenhaal is an appealing actress, and deserves her first nomination. Not necessarily for this movie, but I suppose we all have to take what we can get.
Beyond acting, the film has little to offer. The script, by Scott Cooper, is amusing and times, but is most likely the source of the problems I have with Jeff Bridges' performance. The same can be said for Cooper's directorial style. For lack of a better phrase, the man doesn't really have any vision. This is fine, I suppose. The world needs directors who make average, standard, pedestrian films. Crazy Heart, however, needed a stylistic edge to elevate it from its shoddy source material, and one can only fault Cooper for not giving it that edge.
I suppose I might have also enjoyed this film more were I a country music fan. Crazy Heart is chock-full of new tunes, penned by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, but I can't say many of them moved me. The notable exception is the final song, "The Weary Kind," which is sort of beautiful in its own melancholy way, and "Feels Like Flyin'," which isn't a great song, but is damnably catchy.
Final verdict? Movie of the week. Not a complete waste of time, but not memorable either. Why awards voters keep mistaking this mediocre film for a memorable one is anybody's guess. I'm sure stumped.

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