Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, an alcoholic, self-loathing, over-the-hill country singer in the movie Crazy Heart. As Bad, he carouses, drinks way too much and vomits way too often on screen, sings in bowling alleys, and watches porn on TV. Bad falls for Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a small town New Mexico reporter. I was happy to see Gyllenhaal receive an Oscar nomination for her fine performance as a single mom who once again falls for a man despite her best instincts. After many wrong turns, Bad eventually finds redemption with the help of Jean and his ex-alcoholic friend Wayne (Robert Duvall), and turns his life around.
If the premise of Crazy Heart sounds familiar, it is. It’s basically a re-telling of the far superior 1983 Duvall film, Tender Mercies, with less religious symbolism. It even bears a resemblance to last year’s The Wrestler, with an over-the-hill Mickey Rourke looking for redemption with the help of exotic dancer Marissa Tomei.
In order to make a movie like Crazy Heart work, it has to be very well written and directed. Scott Cooper, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Cobb, isn’t up to the task. I have to know why I should care about Bad Blake, what makes him unique, other than the fact that he’s played by a good actor. Unfortunately, I didn’t care enough about him to make it through the long scenes of his drinking in rundown motels and halfheartedly singing to tiny crowds in small town bars. There are some nice scenes with Gyllenhaal (who I think gives the best performance in the film) and Duvall, who try to appeal to the humanity of a man they genuinely care about. But they’re not enough to redeem this film as it comes to its rather predictable conclusion.
Theologically, we know that God’s grace can turn anyone’s life around. Sometimes a person has to hit rock bottom to experience that, as Bad does. We understand that amazing grace works through other people, like Jean and Wayne. So, there’s no argument with Crazy Heart on a theological level. If it were better executed, it could have been a fine film. For a much better film on the same theme, I’d recommend you check out Tender Mercies on DVD. Here’s a movie that combines fine acting and writing in a theological story of the redemption of a character you really care about.
Tom Condon, OP