Feb 26, 2010

CRAZY HEART, movie review

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."

* *


Brenda's Arizona said...

I was wondering about this movie review since you list Tender Mercies as one of your favorites. Was it hard to see thru Crazy Heart and not read/translate it into TM?

I sense your frustration with Bad Blade... is it a 'victim' mentality he adopts? I get so damn impatient with characters who can't help but fail. Your "come on, now" comment hits home.

I'm looking forward to Altadena's comments. Maybe we can tag-team our comments.

PJ said...

All things Jeff:




Gothpunkuncle said...

I hope to find time to see this on the big screen. On my list as well is the Van Zandt documentary: Be Here to Love Me. I understand Townes' surviving family casts a much colder eye upon the addictions than his acolytes.

Anonymous said...

Drop kick me jesus through the goal posts of life.

More and more I think these characters allow the audience to go emotionally slumming. Hey, I'm not as bad as that guy -- I never did [whatever].

This film doesn't interest me, but I did like TM, and I liked it for the laconic, wide open empty spaces in the landscape and in the the script. The great contrast to Duvall and Harper was Buckley.


Banjo52 said...

Brenda, hard NOT to contrast it to TM. I intended only to mention the comparison, but got carried away (again).

Paula, I still haven't looked into the sites you offer, but I will, soon. Ditto Ahiker. And Hiker, superb points about TM, which of course means I agree with them.

Didn't know ANYone else had heard of that country song, "Drop Kick Me Jesus." If memory serves, I didn't find it much of a song after the great (if comic) title. Of course, it's rivaled by "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart."

GPU, is the VanZandt doc around now? On the other hand, I doubt I'll go--isn't he too hip for me? And yes, the big screen might be good for Crazy Heart--some cool landscape scenes, and it might make music, characters and plot grab better.

And about that family factor, yeah! Why do we romanticize it all so much? Has Hiker nailed it with "emotional slumming"?

And/or, on the flip side of that coin, do the straight arrows among us have a streak of longing to be that kind of outlaw, or any kind of outlaw? I've mentioned before how many students have asked if their class with me was the worst class I've ever had, and they were hoping for a Yes. They wanted to be BAD. I guess I find it cute in a way, but also sad in a way, esp. when applied to adults.

Thanks, all. Keep it going, I hope.

Banjo52 said...

Now I've looked at Paula and Hiker's links, and they're excellent. I didn't know of Stephen Bruton, but certainly have enjoyed and admired some of his more famous cohorts. I've probably listened to Bruton many times without realizing it.

And the clip of Crazy Heart being filmed is very cool. Pretty often, if I'm not completely into a movie, I end up wondering how they did this or that work with cameras and editing. That camera outfit in the clip is one MOBILE thang to be so big.

And Hiker's clip of Betty Buckley in Tender Mercies . . . I own the flick, but haven't watched it for a couple of years, and Wow. I'd forgotten.

None of us have mentioned the movie Nashville. Anybody care to weigh in on it? It made a big, good impression on me the couple of times I watched it, but it's been a good while.

PJ said...

I've heard mixed reviews about this and don't plan on seeing it unless it's on the shelves at the library, then I can fast forward through the overly candid parts. I do like Jeff Bridges and I like his photography and music, though.

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