In a just universe, Jeff Bridges would have a roomful of Oscars by now. He’s been so great in so many roles for so long, it’s almost ironic he’s getting some of his best notices ever for the broken-down country singer he plays in Crazy Heart. Not that Bridges isn’t spectacular in the part—is he ever. But Bridges is an actor of such wry, thoughtful subtlety who makes it look so effortless that some viewers may miss the exquisite craftsmanship of his performance, or, worse, assume he’s just playing himself. Bridges invests 57-year-old “Bad” Blake with all the cantankerous brio and innate, slightly shopworn charm accrued from a hard life lived on the road. After four marriages, fleeting fame, and a lifetime of bad decisions, he travels the byways of the desert Southwest in his Chevy Silverado, playing with pick-up bands in bowling alleys and honky-tonks, fueled by cigarettes, whiskey, and the occasional groupie of a certain age.
He can still be great onstage, singing the “old songs” (lifelong musician Bridges sings with ragged authority), but nowadays, he’d rather get drunk than face the introspection it would take to write ’em like that any more. Plot-wise, it’s a road we’ve all been down before, but director Scott Cooper (adapting the Thomas Cobb novel) provides a few happy surprises. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s marvelous self-possession and grown-up sensuality is so perfectly pitched to the renegade yearning of Bridges’ Bad, their May-December relationship feels entirely credible. Colin Farrell delivers a fine cameo as Tommy Sweet, the protégé whose glitzy career has eclipsed Bad’s, but who shares a vast arena stage with Bad for one night only. Farrell, too, does his own singing, and their duet together is terrific. All the music is beautifully crafted; more than one showy tune, repeated over and over, songwriters Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett contribute an entire repertoire that Bad and company sing differently from night to night, depending on the circumstances. The rueful ballad “The Weary Kind” (written by Ryan Bingham, who has a small part in the film) is getting all the attention, but the entire song cycle is essential to the storytelling, furthering plot and enhancing character. And it’s the subdued power of Bridges’ performance that gives this movie its crazy heart; he’s literally Bad to the bone. (★★★1/2) (PG-13) 111 minutes | LJ Watch movie trailer >>>