Review in a Hurry: Jeff Bridges gives an effortlessly lovable performance as a burned-out, drunken country legend looking for a comeback in both music and life. The movie as a whole never rings as true as Bridges' lead character, Bad Blake—but he's appealing enough to keep it from falling apart.
The Bigger Picture: The open road, the opened bourbon bottle, and the open-all-night bowling alley. These make up the bulk of the landscape traveled by Bad Blake, a country star well-known enough that all his hits are still sing-alongs, but who hasn't written a new tune in years, and has been eclipsed by a former band member turned superstar (an uncredited Colin Farrell).
Blake is what you'd call a functional alcoholic—despite the gallons of whiskey he washes down, he has yet to miss a show...though he has occasionally had to duck out mid-set to puke in a trashcan. And while the only groupies he has nowadays are missing a tooth or two, hey, you take what you can get.
So when Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) shows up to interview him for a local paper, he is instantly smitten. So, somewhat inexplicably, is she. Maintaining his touring schedule, and ultimately succumbing to the record label's insistence that he open for his former protégé, Blake nonetheless returns to visit Jean and her little boy, finding a kind of redemption with her. But he's still much more of a mess than she realizes...
Bridges does his own singing, and he carries a tune well—but for a supposed country legend, there's something lacking. When you listen to a Johnny or Willie or Hank or Merle, there's a quality in the voice, a gravitas, that automatically conjures up a life lived hard. Bridges' performance gives us that impression; his music vocals, however, do not. T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham supply the songs, which aren't as memorable as they should be
And after taking great pains to make us aware that Blake is a fully functional boozehound, the crux of the drama hitches on an obviously telegraphed yet absurd slip-up, something that feels so unbelievable, requiring the character to do the one thing he would be almost certain not to do, that it comes off as manipulative.
It's tough to properly assess a movie like this. It's fun and well-acted, and yet lacks a certain good ol' boy character, despite the appearance of Robert Duvall to basically pass down the Tender Mercies torch.
As to why it's called Crazy Heart, it's because Blake ends up writing a song called "Crazy Heart." Not much more to it than that, which sums up the movie's weaknesses in a nutshell. But it's a charming film almost in spite of itself.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Compared to the movies made by actual country stars these days—take Trace Adkins in An American Carol, or the filmography of Toby Keith, please!—this is a masterpiece.
There's so much else to see, too—have a look in our Totally New Releases gallery!