Feb 26, 2010
Crazy Heart A-
Crazy Heart deserves its good reviews, but here are some reservations, as well as praise, for a first-rate movie.
First, I can’t help thinking it’s one more story about one more entertainer who’s down on his “luck” because he’s made a series of self-destructive and self-involved choices. These days, I think we might be hearing too much about good people making bad choices. When do we require the character in question to make some bolder, harsher statements about himself?
Also, flawed as our hero is, does he require such a hyperbolic, country-music-outlaw name as “Bad Blake"? My brain burped every time I heard it, and this time I agreed with my brain. (Maybe I’m thinking of the Jimmie Dale Gilmore song, “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own.” Great title, great song. What if the movie's title were, “My Mind Makes Some Bad Choices”?)
I know something about marketing country singers, but "Bad Blake" crosses the line into theater, self-parody, fatuousness. Yet it's our hero’s first choice; he won’t even disclose his legal name to his love interest, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who would be a remarkably lucky choice for a guy his age and in his condition, by the way).
I also wanted more sense of how and why Bad Blake made so many bad choices, more specifics about how and why he gave up on himself and others. Are we supposed to respect the envy he feels toward his big-start protegee? Don't we want to know about the rift between him and his son? How can we be sure Bad Blake is more than a whiner, a 50-something brat?
I’m also bothered by the movie’s debt to Tender Mercies (1983), in which Robert Duvall played a similar role (by the way, Duvall has a supporting role in Crazy Heart). Bridges’ acting range might be greater than Duvall’s, and the conclusion of Crazy Heart might be a touch more realistic. Also, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a more intense actress than Tess Harper was as female lead—though I’ve always thought Harper’s flatness came across as prairie strength, simplicity, focus.
Now that I’ve created a competition between two fine movies, perhaps a bad choice on my part, let me mention that Crazy Heart gets points for Jeff Bridges’ singing; it's surprisingly good, probably better than Duvall’s in the older movie. Ditto the songs themselves, though Tender Mercies had some winners.
In realism and power of setting and atmosphere, in creation of an important, believable world apart, Tender Mercies wins by several points. It has the soul that most country tries to be about, whereas Crazy Heart is more concerned with the evil commerce of the music business and its toll upon humans. It's country music corporate.
Although I’ve emphasized my reservations, I recommend Crazy Heart almost without hesitation. But I do feel it needs to footnote its predecessor in some way; maybe that’s what Robert Duvall’s presence is supposed to do, but it doesn’t seem clear enough.
And nowhere did I pick up on a note of apology for the self-indulgent choice of name for Bad Blake, a protagonist who, though not exactly heroic, does not need to go around announcing himself as a bad blade (a knife blade or a strand of grass? I guess I get the symbolism). After all, it’s just that the guy has made some bad choices, prior to the movie’s present tense. His soul is intact.
And it is, actually; he just has to find it. Most people will end up pulling for him, including me, even though I too often had to say, "Oh, come on now."