Jeff Bridges reminds me of a Brando in reverse. When he thanked the audience at the Golden Globes for their standing ovation, he said, "You're ruining my image as underappreciated." My wife and I have said the same thing every time we've seen him. When will the Academy recognize Jeff Bridges for not only an individual performance, but to help make up for all the years he hasn't gotten what he deserves? In that way he's unlike Brando, whose accolades and adoration came mostly at the beginning of his career.
The first time I saw Bridges was in the wonderful comedy, Hearts Of the West, playing a 1930s movie stuntman. I've followed his career since and he has played every type of character, bad guys and good guys, comedies and serious dramas. Heretofore maybe his most cultish appeal has come with the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski, which showed Bridges' ability to get inside a character so thoroughly you forget you're watching an actor play a part.
That's the way I felt when we saw Crazy Heart, the movie that is finally generating the kind of Oscar talk that shows maybe this time, come the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony, Bridges will leave with a statuette.
Bridges plays Bad Blake (whose real name, we find out late in the movie, is really Otis), a four-times-married, alcoholic over-the-hill country singer. In his past Bad has been a star who has written some great songs. When we encounter him he's toward the nadir of his career, traveling from bad venue to bad venue, playing his guitar with pick-up bands.
Bad meets good, in the form of Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean Craddock, a reporter who attempts to interview him. She ends up falling for him instead, and he for her.
Despite his drinking and excessive smoking she lets Bad into her life as a single mother with her little boy, Buddy. Buddy takes immediately to Bad. The feeling is mutual. But Bad, in an alcoholic fog, takes Buddy to a mall. He gets a drink and Buddy disappears. While frantically searching he encounters a mall security man. Bad appears to be so completely beaten down by fear and distress that he can hardly keep his head up. After broadcasting a description of Buddy the mall cop asks, "How much have you had to drink today, sir?" Bad stands with mouth flapping for an instant, as if it hadn't sunk in his drinking is pertinent at a time when a boy is missing.
Buddy is found and he's fine, and in its way the averted tragedy helps to bring about the redemption of Bad Blake.
There is a surprise in this movie. Bad was a mentor to Tommy Sweet, a popular country singer played by Colin Farrell. Bad is jealous of Tommy, but Tommy is, like his name, Sweet. He never gives up on Bad and it's with his help, as well as that of Bad's friend, Wayne, played by Robert Duvall, that puts him on the road to sobriety and back earning a good living. The surprise is that not only can Colin Farrell sing, he's good. But then, so is Bridges, whose talent makes Bad more realistic than if someone else was supplying the voice. The songs, chosen by T Bone Burnett, are great. I wasn't expecting the music to be as big a part of the movie as it was, but the songs sound like they could actually be hits. They aren't just some pseudo country filler made up for the movie.
Learning that Irishman Colin Farrell can talk Southern U.S. and sing country songs was really the only surprise for me, though, because at its core the movie is formulaic: Man down on his luck is saved by the love of a woman. It goes through the typical stages, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc. Even considering that formula the story doesn't end quite the way we might anticipate, but it does have an upbeat ending. When the credits roll we're assured that the characters will go on with their lives, profoundly and in a positive way changed by what has occurred to them as we watched the movie.