The underdog in this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture doesn’t have flashy, expensive special effects like Avatar or have an all-star A-list roster of a cast like Nine or concern itself with contemporary politics like The Hurt Locker. But of all the films competing for awards gold, Crazy Heart, does have the biggest, well, heart.
The shaggy dog story follows forgotten country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges). When the film opens, we find him touring bowling alleys and bars, drinking too much and generally just getting by day by day. We learn that his protege, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) has since gone on super stardom leaving Blake behind. His fortunes change when he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a reporter who not only wants to interview him, but even knows who some the old time influences Blake talks about are. Taken with her, Blake and Jean begin an uneasy relationship that will be tested as the singer encounters bumps on the road to his redemption.
The story certainly isn’t anything new. In fact, very much structured like Fox Searchlight’s Oscar contender from last year, The Wrestler, also about a man seeking salvation, this a film that requires its actors to raise the film to another level, and boy do they step up to the task. Jeff Bridges, who deservedly earned a Golden Globe for his role, embodies the worn out, drink soaked, country singer with ease and charm to spare. Gyllenhaal adds dimension to what could very easily be a one-note role, while Farrell surprises with his turn as the successful singer who is haunted both by guilt and awe at his one time mentor. But the real ace in the hole with this film is Robert Duvall, whose second half turn as Blake’s best friend Wayne, is a true delight.
Crazy Heart isn’t the most original film but it works because the script provides an emotional core that is real, honest and true. It really doesn’t take much for Blake to worm his way into the viewer’s affections and it isn’t long before you’re rooting for him to conquer his demons and find the light on the other side. At one point in the film, Blake describes what makes memorable country songs so special: “The good ones are the ones you’re sure you’ve heard before.” And that is true of Crazy Heart. All the elements might seem familiar, you might swear you’ve seen this film before, yet it remains fresh and full of life. Featuring a wonderful soundtrack and a warm-hearted tone that is refreshing, Crazy Heart is a feel-good story that hits all the right notes.