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"Crazy Heart"

"Crazy Heart"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

The last thing I heard in my living room as I snapped off the TV to head out for an almost too-late screening of "Crazy Heart" was the voice of Jeff Bridges doing a car commercial, or was it his battery commercial? I saw him yesterday singing one of his purdy C&W songs from "Crazy Heart" to little Missy Ellen DeGeneres.

Yes, Mr. Bridges is ubiquitous these days, but that's just fine. He's been one of my favorite male actors out of Hollywood, USA for a quite a spell, now. My favorite Jeff Bridges movies are "The Last Picture Show," "Fearless," "The Contender" and one from way back called, "Bad Company." It came out just after "The Last Picture Show." And, although I almost don't want to confess it, another is "KPAX," which had Bridges cast with another fine actor, Kevin Spacey. "KPAX" may be a more critically maligned movie than the Oscar-winning "Crash." I've never been able to figure out why some movie "specialists" hate "Crash" and "KPAX."

But this is a review about "Crazy Heart," for which Jeff Bridges just won the Best Actor Golden Globe last weekend. I wasn't happy watching Jeff get it, because I didn't know whether he deserved it or not. Now I know, and I've got a wider smile on my face than last Sunday night because I get to use my good-old-boy vernacular writing about this film which was well-directed by Scott Cooper who co-wrote the script with the novel's author, Thomas Cobb.

"Tender Mercies" with Robert Duvall

First off, let me tell you "Crazy Heart" is just about as trite a movie as you'll ever lay eyes on. I just happened to sit down with Robert Duvall on cable the other day to watch "Tender Mercies" again: one, that if you've missed, you're makin' a mistake, friend. That script was done by Horton Foote, who has never been a slouch on screenplays.

"Crazy Heart" goes down the same two-lane blacktop as "Tender Mercies." It's the drunken C&W singer/songwriter in his career freefall meeting someone who causes him to want to get his shit together that mixes family stuff and love of children, along with the grit of the music/record biz that might be even tougher than life lived on the road. BTW, the language in this little yarn lies some where between "R" and "X." Many words in it I first heard under age at my hometown pool hall.

Bridges is one of those actors who always plays himself, yet, unlike John Wayne, becomes a living character buried in the pit of the role. Here we have him playing a middle-aged man using the professional handle of "Bad" Blake. I like it. At the end of the movie, you get to find out what Bad's real first name is.

Another of my favorite lady film actors of today, Maggie Gyllenhaal has the Tess Harper "Tender Mercies" role. Her name is Jean Craddock. Jean works for a Santa Fe newspaper, but comes from a town where I used to go to high school music contests. That would be Enid, Oklahoma. But Gyllenhaal doesn't beat you over the head with an Okie accent, just enough to make it real.

Both Gyllenhaal and Bridges make it real throughout, along with, yip, you guessed it, Robert Duvall as Wayne, a Houston bar owner who's a longtime bud of Bad's. Duvall and Bridges, who've been around the film biz a long time, are two of the "Heart" producers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bridges

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bridges

There are only three things that rubbed me a little bit the wrong way in this picture: the Jean Craddock character not convincing me that she couldn't do better than takin' up with old alcoholic Bad; and Bad suddenly having had all along a little brick place right in the middle of a nice, modest Houston neighborhood that we don't know of, while he's being painted so down-and-out in the first part of the film. I think the art director made up for Bad being a home owner by making him such a bad housekeeper. Then, there's the ending, which I'll not describe, only to say that, the weakness in it relates again to Gyllenhaal's character. That don't... rather, that doesn't mean Maggie doesn't shine in the role. She does, as much as Bridges does in his. And with the endeavor for full-disclosure, I must advise the reader I've been in love with Maggie since the first time I laid eyes on her in "Secretary" with James Spader, if you know what I mean. Her face fairly glows in "Crazy Heart" and she has a way of moving in this film, as well as others I've seen her in, that is quite striking, and I don't necessarily mean that in a lustful way. Just as Bridges, she is a distinctive film actor.

The scenes with Bridges and a young fellow by the name of Jack Nation (playing Jean's 4-year-old son, Buddy) are simply real. The kid isn't old enough to fully comprehend acting, but there's nothing inauthentic in the dialogue and action when Buddy and Bad go out to "find some trouble to get into." There's no doubt both little Jack and big Jeff are having a big ball in front of the camera. I call that good directing and good acting. These scenes also show close-up moments of Ms. Gyllenhaal's readable eyes, playing a loving mother.

A little surprise for the young ladies in attendance to see "Crazy Heart" would be Colin Farrell sans Irish brogue with, instead, a down home southern accent. He plays Tommy Sweet, the hot, new item for the more youthful lovers of fine Country & Western. He's got a pony tail, gals.

The music is really good, too. I think there was some foot-tappin' going on in the theater. I categorize the up tunes in "Crazy Heart" as chuggin', kick-ass C&W. Bridges' singing is just-right: real, much like his announcer voice for selling cars and batteries. Looks like he's playing his own GHEE-tahr, too, which reminds me that the original music for "Crazy Heart" was done by T. Bone Burnett, Stephen Bruton, and I hear tell, Greg Brown. There was also Golden Globe action last Sunday in the "Crazy Heart" music department.

Beau and Lloyd Bridges

Beau and Lloyd Bridges

Great scenery slips along behind this modern-day character study: Santa Fe, other New Mexican locales and Houston. The final scene has the camera pulling back slowly from the parking lot of what looks to me to be the Santa Fe Opera which is just a few miles outside the state capital. Another nice part of this shot is getting one more gander at the mountains almost masked in the red glow that's seen in a late afternoon New Mexican sky.

"Crazy Heart" beats no new trail...just a good one. The only things left out of this movie's snappy dialogue are the lines in "Tender Mercies," when an old lady getting out of a pickup asks Robert Duvall if he "didn't used to be Mac Sledge?" Now we've got "Bad" Blake to mess with. Next thing you know, and old Jeff Bridges'll be doing guest shots on Austin City Limits.

"Crazy Heart" should transcend politics in that both conservatives and liberals will enjoy it, which might be a nice change up for ALL of us. But you conservative Americans, listen up. I don't want you gettin' your jeans all up in a knot when I tell you that Mr. Bridges comes from one of them... or... those... liberal Hollywood actor families: Lloyd, the father (TV's "Sea Hunt") was a staunch liberal, as well as Jeff's well-known and professionally prolific bro, Beau.

Just enjoy "Crazy Heart," however you might mark your ballot.

Much Oblige.

"Crazy Heart" official site.

Coming to Tulsa theaters January 29.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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