Saturday, February 13, 2010

Man on Film: Crazy Heart

After weeks of not being able to see this for various reasons, TSLF and I finally got out to the theater to take in Crazy Heart, and am I ever glad we did.

As this is a movie about a musician, I feel compelled to talk first about the music. The soundtrack is outstanding. With Buck Owens, Waylon, Townes, and more scattered throughout the film with the Oscar-nominated Ryan Bingham theme, "The Weary Kind," bridging from the coda to the credits, the non-Bad Blake songs in the film set the perfect tone. And by perfect tone, I mean the film's soundtrack is absent any and all bullshit, factory-produced, Nashville faux-country.

But really the soundtrack is just there to compliment the performance by Jeff Bridges. Singing mostly* T-Bone Burnett/Stephen Bruton penned songs, Bridges deftly embodies the Texas country singer, both as an actor and as a musician. Vocally, Bridges pulls off everything that's asked of him, which is no small task considering that the "Bad Blake" catalog runs the gamut from country ballad to a honky-tonk rollick. As an actor, he never misses a beat on his whiskey-soaked run.

*There's also the great "Brand New Angel" that was written by a personal favorite of mine, Greg Brown.

As for the rest of the film (and really, the music is that important), well, it's really damn good. Upon initially hearing of this film, I think a lot of us were probably drawn to comparing it to The Wrestler. There are certainly thematic elements that the two films share. They are about former stars in their fields of entertainment whose careers have been relegated to playing for peanuts in holes-in-the-wall. Both protagonists have also let their career pursuits (and the lifestyle inherent in such paths chosen) get in the way of the building any semblance of a personal life, leaving loved ones in their wake.

Where the films differ is in how they make the viewer feel. Sure, both films have humor generously mixed in, but where The Wrestler is ultimately depressing as the future can only have so much to hold for a professional wrestler, Crazy Heart is not nearly as sombre. Where The Ram only knows one way to live and his age has gotten to be an insurmountable obstruction, Bad Blake has a clear path by which he can right his ship. As such, the humor within is not simply a means by which temporary levity is allowed in to an otherwise bleak cinescape, it enriches a redemption tale.

And setting this tale of a Texas country singer against the quiet vastness of the American Southwest seals the deal. Maybe it is coincidental, but three of the best films* of the past five years have all been filmed largely against that backdrop. Now there is a fourth.

*Here, I am talking of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood, which actually might just be the three best films of that time span, in descending order. The only film I can think of that might force its way into that conversation off the top of my head is Children of Men. Well, that and Rambo, of course. And maybe Brick.

Driven by the superb performance of Jeff Bridges, whose turn as an alcoholic washed up country star strikes a perfect balance between a charming performer and a hopeless drunk, Crazy Heart is great film imbued with a love for music and its flawed hero.

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