Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for Crazy Heart, but you might not have seen it in the theaters. I sure didn’t. Now, though, on glorious DVD, you can make your own determination if he was deserving. I sure did.
In the opening scene of the quiet, comfortable, enjoyable drama Crazy Heart, country-music legend Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) pulls into the parking lot of the Colorado bowling alley where he will perform that night. Wearing clothes that look like they haven’t been changed (or taken off) in about three days, he pours out a jug of his urine on the ground and, despite the early hour, immediately tries to run a tab at the bowling alley’s bar. That’s about all you need to know about Bad’s life up to this point. He used to be big time, but thanks to constant drinking and changing musical tastes, he’s eking out a pitiful existence on the dive bar/bowling alley circuit of the Southwest.
The whole “I used to be somebody and now I’m somebody else” concept is one heavily used in books, movies, and songs. In fact, Bad himself has a song with that title. Fortunately, while the plot doesn’t exactly ring out with originality, first-time writer/director Scott Cooper had a godsend in Bridges as his lead. Bridges takes every well-worn concept and makes it seem real and heartfelt. He plays well off Maggie Gyllenhaal, as New Mexico journalist/budding love interest Jean, although Gyllenhaal herself doesn’t do much with her role. It’s really Bridges show, and every mile of his hard-drinking, hard-living style comes out without much showiness or “Look at me and give me an Oscar!” histrionics.
I do wish Cooper would have put in a few twists or turns, rather than focusing everything on a combination of Bridges’ amazing work and beautiful New Mexico vistas. The writer hits all the basic notes; Star who used to be someone but ruined it with drinkin’? Check. Former protégé who older star now resents? Check. Second chance at love, which star blows by being an assclown? Check. Estranged child who hates star for abandonment/failures in the past? Check. It’s not unlike The Wrestler, also anchored by a superb veteran performance, but with a warmer, big-screen look, rather than the harsher, hand-held documentary style used in Mickey Rourke/Darren Aronofsky flick.
Bridges doesn’t hit many false notes as he begins to search for some redemption to his life. In addition to his relationship with Jean, Bad leans on his old fishing buddy, Wayne (Robert Duvall), and accepts some help from his former band member, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), now a country music superstar. Duvall is Duvall, brilliant as always, but Farrell is also very good, both in trying to do the right thing by his former mentor and in singing his own songs, like Bridges.
Music, naturally, plays a big part in the film. The songs, written primarily by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, are an enjoyable mix of up-tempo country and weary ballads. Bridges’ singing voice sounds, well, like Jeff Bridges, but he is believable as someone who makes a living with his voice.
While not a particularly original movie, Crazy Heart is still worth watching, if for nothing else than watching Bridges turn some 40 years of experience into one damn fine performance. You’ll be able to see where this one is going, but you won’t mind taking the ride.
Despite the quality of the movie, the DVD for Crazy Heart is disappointing. While the picture and sound are top notch, the extras are meager. No full versions of the songs performed in the film, no interviews with the stars, no commentary, and no behind-the-scenes features.
There are about 10 minutes of deleted scenes. The most interesting is one brings some nuance to Bridge’s journey in the last third of the film. I was glad it was left out, as it has that Oscar-bait quality that is lacking from the rest of his performance. There is a version of a song left out of the movie, performed in a bar, and then several short scenes that are neither here or there.
Sadly, that’s all for the DVD. You certainly can’t expect too much from an independent release, and the DVD benefits from the film itself, but it does make the DVD less of a good deal, especially if you’ve already seen the movie in the theater.