That’s the thing about the good ones,” singer-songwriter “Bad” Blake (Jeff Bridges) tells Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) about a song he just wrote. “You’ve heard them all before.” That’s the magic actor-turned-filmmaker Scott Cooper hopes to work in his writing and directorial debut.
Based on Thomas Cobb’s 1987 novel of the same name, Crazy Heart introduces “Bad” Blake (Bridges), who won’t disclose his real name for fear of tarnishing his minor myth, driving down a highway out West in his trusty tour vehicle, a rust-and-sand Chevrolet Silverado that serves as both gear-hauler and, possibly, sleeping compartment should the situation require. And the first real glimpse of Bad sets the tone of the kind of life he lives: He parks at his latest tour stop, a bowling alley in a Podunk town off the highway, steps onto the gravel parking lot with his pants open — Bridges spends most of the movie with his big-buckled belt and the top button of his jeans undone — and then reaches in and grabs the plastic container he’s been using as a urinal and dumps it on the ground.
Bad has seen enough of this world to know life doesn’t play fair. He’s been through a handful of marriages, has a 28-year-old son he doesn’t know, smokes and drinks way too much, stumbles from roadside motel to roadside motel, occasionally leaving a local woman to wake up alone in his room, and he hasn’t written a new song in so long he’s not sure those muscles know how to do it anymore. Bad’s career, such as it is, is entirely supported by these crappy gigs he plays at bowling alleys and small saloons with local pick-up bands. No label wants to gamble on producing an album by an aging singer with no new songs, and he’s stuck earning money for gas, booze, and smokes on these solo trips through the Southwest.
To make matters worse, Bad’s former C&W running buddy, the younger Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), is now a Nashville star playing 12,000-seat pavilions and touring with a three-bus armada of gear and support. Tommy is a living reminder of everything Bad’s career isn’t. The unstated tension between the two when Bad opens for Tommy in Phoenix colors their first face-to-face conversation in what could be years, each avoiding eye contact and shifting the subject back to the good old days. Tommy adds insult to injury by asking Bad to write songs for him — for a price that Bad hasn’t seen in years, if ever.
Jean, though, makes Bad pause when he crosses her path. He takes a shine to this younger single mother, a reporter for a Santa Fe newspaper who interviews him during his stop there and slowly appears to be warming to his flattery and attentions. They begin a romance ill-fated from the start — from the moment you see Jean flash her irresistible smile at Bad you know he’s hooked, and from the moment he visits her home and meets her young son, you know Bad is going to find a way to screw things up.
That he does is less a fault with Crazy’s predictability than the quality of its predecessors. Robert Duvall (whose Butcher’s Fun Films produced) shows up as Bad’s best friend in his Houston hometown, but he serves as a visual reminder that this movie was much more moving and poetic in 1983 when it starred Duvall and was called Tender Mercies. A more pressing question is why Bridges gets tapped to grow his hair and beard out for this role in a world where Kris Kristofferson exists. Bridges does a workmanlike job of bringing Bad Blake to life, but the songs Stephen Bruton penned for the movie—dig the sly self-deprecation of “I used to be somebody, now I’m somebody else” — tell the only stories worth remembering here. — Bret McCabe
Writ. and dir. Scott Cooper; feat. Jeff Bridges, James Keane, Tom Bower, Beth Grant, Rick Dial, Maggie Gyllenhaal (R)