When I told my best friend Brooke that I was going to see 'Crazy Heart' (written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb), starring Jeff Bridges (nominated for a "Best Actor in a Drama" Golden Globe for his performance) and Maggie Gyllenhaal, her response was, "You mean, 'The Wrestler' except done with country music instead of wrestling?"

Though 'Crazy Heart' is less intense and harrowing, I can see why she said that. At times, as I watched the film, due to the Brooke-planted seed and certain similarities between the two films, I kept envisioning scenes from 'The Wrestler', though during 'The Wrestler' I kept seeing visions of Axl Rose whenever I looked at Mickey Rourke's bloated face.

When I told my best friend Brooke that I was going to see 'Crazy Heart' (written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb), starring Jeff Bridges (nominated for a "Best Actor in a Drama" Golden Globe for his performance) and Maggie Gyllenhaal, her response was, "You mean, 'The Wrestler' except done with country music instead of wrestling?"

Though 'Crazy Heart' is less intense and harrowing, I can see why she said that. At times, as I watched the film, due to the Brooke-planted seed and certain similarities between the two films, I kept envisioning scenes from 'The Wrestler', though during 'The Wrestler' I kept seeing visions of Axl Rose whenever I looked at Mickey Rourke's bloated face.

The little film that could, 'Crazy Heart' has been winning the hearts of film critics and moviegoers alike. While I enjoyed it, I didn't absolutely love it. Due to what is my unfortunate battle with ADD, I'm normally unable to endure a two hour film without becoming bored -- but I was able to sit, fully engaged, through 'Crazy Heart''s 111 minutes without checking my watch even once.

What infused the film with its emotional power was the tremendous force of Jeff Bridges' stunning portrayal of "Bad" Blake, a 57-year-old country singer whose younger glory days have been reduced to driving around the country in a Suburban, playing unglamourous venues, including a bowling alley bar where the owner unintentionally reinforces that Bad's life is in the gutter by gifting him with a lifetime of free bowling.

An alcoholic who has four broken marriages in his discordant past, Bad (who looks like a puffy Kris Kristofferson), despite his broken-down career, still has fans in the form of aging groupies and a convenience store owner who gives Bad a bottle of his favourite alcohol, McClure's Whisky. While life on the road can be lonely for even the most successful of musicians, for Bad it's a dismal series of dark motel rooms, desperate phone conversations with his manager (played marvelously by James Keane) and falling asleep clutching a whisky bottle.

When Bad's sad, one-man tour rolls into Santa Fe, New Mexico however, his trainwreck of a life picks up steam. Along comes young and inexperienced journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal in a well-crafted, layered performance which seamlessly combines raw vulnerability with solid strength), a single mother who conducts an array of interviews with Bad in his motel room, culminating in a romantic relationship between the pair.

Though the romance proceeds more quickly than seems believable and despite the fact it was unclear what initially attracted Jean to the sloth-like Bad, I suppose it's neither fair to question why nor to question the pace at which people fall in love. (After all, Italian psychiatrist Donatella Marazitti, when comparing people falling in love to those who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, found equally low levels of serotonin and consequent obsessive behaviour in both groups.) Jean reignites Bad's passion for life, unchaining both his heart and the writer's block which had been haunting him. At the same time, Bad makes Jean feel needed, after a series of emotionally unavailable men who had left her all alone.

Just like the stories told in most country songs, however, their relationship is not without its troubles. Jean's first priority in life is to her 4-year-old son Buddy. With Bad's first priority in his personal life being alcohol, Jean is compelled but reluctant towards their relationship. Despite his addiction, Bad takes an active interest in Buddy, who has been devoid of male influences in his life. Bad's affection for the young boy is genuine, but one can't help but think that part of his bonding to Jean's child includes an attempt to reconcile his past, having abandoned his own son Steven (now 28 years old) when Steven was close to Buddy's age. And thus, the cautionary inner voice that had been whispering to Jean's heart turns out to to be there for a reason.

Meanwhile, there's another uneasy relationship in Bad's life. While Bad's career rides the rails, he is jealous of his younger protege, Tommy Sweet (played in a superbly understated way by Colin Farrell), one of his former backing musicians, whose new country solo career is soaring. But it's clear when Bad opens up for Sweet's headlining performance in front of 12, 000 people that the two men have a sincere respect and appreciation for each other. While the superstar Sweet is busy living the life and trying to keep his marriage together under the pressure of his thriving career, he is also busy trying to help Bad, asking Bad to write songs for him, which will earn Bad a healthy income. The money is in publishing, right?

With its bittersweet story, beautiful shots of the Santa Fe landscape and a gorgeous country soundtrack mostly comprised of songs written by singer/songwriter/producer (Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison) T-Bone Burnett and the late guitarist/songwriter Stephen Bruton, 'Crazy Heart' feels like a warm cup of tea, sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold, Canadian winter day.
CATEGORIES The DL From LA