Jeff Bridges more than makes up for the massive disappointment that was The Men Who Stare at Goats (not really his fault) in Crazy Heart, a quality film that follows country-singin' old-timer and native Texan "Bad Blake" around the American Southwest as he boozes, jams, sweats, pukes, and boozes some more at bowling alleys and dive bars. That's what his career has come to. Along the way, he meets and falls hard for much younger journalist from Santa Fe (the wide-smiling Maggie Gyllenhaal) and faces the fact that the country singer he mentored (a pony-tailed Colin Farrell) has risen further in the music biz than he ever did.
If that intro made you feel a little queasy, just watch the movie. Like his ancient truck, Bessie, Bad seems primed for a breakdown. I kept waiting for him to drop dead after every swig of McClure's whiskey (a fictional product, I believe). You know those mornings where you wake up from a night of binge drinking only to find out that you're still drunk, and you stumble half-naked to the bathroom to barf your brains out? Well, pretty much every day starts like that for Bad Blake.
Bridges has been nominated for an Oscar for this performance, and many are calling him the favorite to win. Although I personally wouldn't give it to him (I'm hoping for a Clooney victory), he really sells the character. As producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett (also from Walk the Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) said in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Bridges has a natural authenticity about him. He could play three notes, Burnett said, and it would just sound right. It's true, and even though he still looks very much like The Dude -- albeit wrinklier, grizzlier, and much less likely to wear shorts or a wool cardigan -- his rundown demeanor and easy way with melancholy, classic country licks will suspend your memory of The Big Lebowski for the 112-minute runtime.
But something soured me on this movie, just a bit. I can't help but notice the parallels between Jeff Bridges' character and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (and my buddy Jacob agrees). You have the fallen hero trying to rise again; substance abuse to the point of us fearing for his life in every scene; finding new love and struggling to sustain it; a father trying to reconnect with his estranged child. Two years in a row we see these themes popping up right in time for Oscar season, and the obvious comparison reminds me what an experience The Wrestler was and what a shame it was for Rourke to miss out on the Best Leading Actor award.
If you want my two cents, both Rourke and Bridges fit the bill, but the former had a better story, better director, and more compelling character to work with. Maybe it's my former wrestling fan bias, but I saw Randy the Ram more as a man of the people -- working behind the deli counter in his spare time to get by, busting ass in the ring to keep his fans entertained -- while Bad Blake seems more or less indifferent to everything except his love interest and finances.
Crazy Heart is a great movie, but I wish it had come out in 2011 or 2012 so The Wrestler would be less fresh in my mind. With that not being the case, it's almost impossible to enjoy it with a clean palate.