Jeff Bridges plays “Bad Blake,” a country singer who’s been on the road too long and his self-indulgence has left a lot of broken hearts in his wake. Four marriages, or is it five? He hasn’t seen or talked to a son, who’s now 28, in 24 years.
There was a protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), once a backup singer, but he hauled off and made a big success out of himself, and now, well, he’s left to throwing his guitar in the back of his beat-up old Suburban, driving alone for hours to the next bowling alley or seedy bar. And more one-night stands than he can count. He stays drunk. Smokes incessantly. Sweats profusely when he does perform, or at least staggers up to the stage to croak out a few bars. Snubs the backup band, and refuses to rehearse with them. He had some hit songs, once, and his agent keeps begging him to write more, but he’s too stupefied most of the time — seeing the world through an alcoholic haze, seasoned with cigarette smoke. Other than his agent, with whom he enjoys a stormy relationship of mutual insult, he’s got one real friend in the world, Wayne (Robert Duvall), who keeps the hometown bar in Houston running for him, and rousts him out, when he’s home, to take him fishing. Wayne’s the one he calls when he’s finally ready to get sober.
See, he’s met this girl, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he really cares about, along with her four-year-old son (that irony is not lost on any of us, including Bad Blake). He really wants to do right by her. But, of course, he messes that up, as well. The only good news is that the searing emotional pain cuts through his personal purple haze, and he feels enough to start writing songs again. It’s a kind of success through failure, and it seems to fit “Bad Blake” and his bad ol’ self.
We’re not sure why, exactly, but we like this guy. At least he is who he presents himself to be, so much so that he can’t distinguish his “real” self from his stage persona, either. It’s not just that he sings country songs, he is a country song. Old-school country: the hard-drinkin’, wanderin’, restless, lonely crooner who’s as much a part of Americana as, say, an electric guitar.
Maggie Gyllenhaal adds much as the counterpoint — the lovely, classy young lady whom he adores, and can charm, temporarily, but can’t bring himself to live up to. The music is passable, as is the musicianship (Bridges can actually play and sing, and he sure looks the part).
“Crazy Heart” is perhaps a bit self-consciously over-the-top about the character of the dissolute, broken-down bar singer. But Jeff Bridges makes it all believable. And if we find ourselves enjoying his drunken cowboy routine better than his sober songwriter persona, well, that maybe says more about us than it does about him, doesn’t it?
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.