Can we just declare Jeff Bridges a national acting treasure and be done with it? Effortlessly sliding between hero and villain, comedy and drama, leading man and character actor, Bridges, like bacon, makes everything he's in better. Unfortunately, when the stars align and he lands a first-rate part in a first-rate movie (The Last Picture Show, Fearless, The Big Lebowski, Tucker, The Fisher King, American Heart, etc.), he's often overlooked or beaten out come awards season. Nominated four times, Bridges remains an Oscar bridesmaid. But as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, he may finally get the Academy acclaim he so richly deserves.
Playing a boozed-up, down-and-out country legend who finds love, loses love, then struggles for redemption, Bridges is a miraculous and soulful train wreck of a character. After years of successfully collaborating with a rising country star (Colin Farrell), crusty old Blake is in professional and personal freefall. He has so abused his musical gifts that he's reduced to playing bowling alley gigs and rushing from the stage mid-performance to vomit out back. At a Santa Fe gig, he meets budding journalist and single-mom Maggie Gyllenhaal, and a relationship sparks. For the first time in years, Blake starts to re-engage with the world. But years of bad habits lead to plot developments you've seen in countless other films about past-their-prime country singers seeking redemption on the road.
It's hard as hell for most hardcore alcoholics to create much that's interesting or compelling, but Bridges injects just enough dignity and weary charm that we find ourselves rooting for him to overcome each self-destructive heartbreak. And though Scott Cooper's barely plotted script mistakes minimalism for drama and relies on its actors to fill out roughly sketched characters, there's a gentle, bruised quality that lingers after the credits. Part of it is Barry Markowitz's gorgeous cinematography; part of it is the chemistry of the cast (Gyllenhaal once again brings unexpected choices to her performance); and part of it is T-Bone Burnett's terrific soundtrack.
But mostly it's Jeff Bridges, singing with battered authenticity, charming us with his exhausted smiles, and saying more with liquored-up stares than a half-dozen monologues.
Opens Friday, Jan. 15, at the Landmark Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].