Introduction

Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart
  • Country of production: USA
  • Year: 2009
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Scott Cooper
  • Running time: 112 minutes
 

Crazy Heart is the portrait of an ageing, alcoholic one-time country music star, played by JEFF BRIDGES, which may mark the pinnacle of Bridges's illustrious career. He has been awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actor and nominated for both an Oscar and a Bafta for Best Leading Actor. MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a single mother and local newspaper journalist who interviews Bridges's character, Bad Blake, and, despite her reservations, becomes romantically involved with him.

Bridges's performance ‘could be his best' (Mike Goodridge, Screen International). His characterisation is ‘masterly' and the film is a ‘superb' depiction of a musician's life on the road, backed by high-calibre country songs (Kate Stables, Sight & Sound).  

Crazy Heart is adapted by actor-turned-writer-and-director Scott Cooper from a 1987 novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb. It co-stars ROBERT DUVALL, who also co-produced it, and COLIN FARRELL as Tommy Sweet, a one-time protégé of Bad Blake and now a successful country star in his own right. Both Bridges and Farrell sing their characters' songs themselves.

The music for the film was written by veteran, twice-Oscar-nominated film music composer T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, who died of cancer towards the end of production in May last year. Bruton had himself spent much of his life touring. "It's an interesting life," he said. "You're not responsible for anything you did yesterday and it's great for a while, but it can easily become a state of arrested development. At some point, you have to walk through the looking glass."

The resulting score has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song (The Weary Kind) and a Bafta for Best Music, having already won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The Weary Kind was written by T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, who appears in the film as Tony, leader of the backing band that play with Bad Blake at a bowling alley.

Jeff Bridges is also a highly regarded on-set still photographer and a selection of the pictures he took during the filming of Crazy Heart is shown in the print version of the magazine.

Re-view

Crazy Heart

BRIDGES DOESN'T MISS A BEAT

‘Everything this seasoned pro does implicitly rings entirely, beautifully true - the self-awareness of his own sorry state, the disgust with his slovenliness, the inner core of pride hidden behind the fat and dirt and sloth, the drive that still pushes him to journey hundreds of miles a day to play a gig... and the kid-like enthusiasm sparked by the prospect of a new relationship and fresh start.'

(TODD McCARTHY, VARIETY)

This film is first and foremost a fine portrait of a washed-up country singer, Bad Blake. The opening scenes vividly show the depths to which he has sunk. He pulls up to a bowling alley called The Spare Room in his beaten-up car and, having undone his belt to release his paunch, pours urine from a plastic bottle onto the floor. That evening, grizzled and dishevelled after drinking, he stumbles onstage, but leaves a song halfway through to throw up in a bin (the bin into which his glasses have just fallen).

Redemption reprised

Crazy Heart has the same themes of self-inflicted hard times and redemption as many country songs. ‘Like a song you've heard a thousand times but which never fails to tug the heartstrings, Crazy Heart feels familiar, even comforting, offering... a wealth of lovingly crafted, immaculately judged, wholly authentic emotion' (Tom Huddleston, Time Out).

Jeff Bridges's characterisation of Bad Blake is at the heart of this. Critics have been remarkably unified in their praise of his portrayal: ‘terrific' (Tom Shone, The Sunday Times), ‘phenomenal' (David Ansen, Newsweek), ‘a staggeringly brilliant, career-defining performance' (Guy Adams, The Independent). Tim Robey in The Daily Telegraph expanded: ‘Not only will he win the Oscar, but it'll be for a classic, rumpled, unaffected Bridges performance - the kind of work that puts a lot of work into looking effortless.'

Bridges knows Bad's character inside out and he even sings convincingly and with subtle differences depending upon whether Bad is drunk or sober. The mannerisms, too, seem natural, such as the way he passes drinks from his chest to the bedside table with an adroit coil of his wrist.

Bridges embodies Bad's complexities and contradictions - ‘charming and obnoxious, talented but prone to self-destruction, loving but ruined by addiction' (Mike Goodridge, Screen International). Even in his initial sorry state, Bridges's Bad retains some humanity. When local journalist Jean walks in to his room to interview him she finds him watching porn with just a towel thrown over him. ‘She's embarrassed, but more important, he's mortified, and for the first time, as he attempts to gather the shambles of his dignity around him, we see that Bad is not beyond caring' (Mary Pols, Time magazine). We get to see ‘a playboy's charm and an old-fashioned Southern courtliness half-hidden behind the weariness, the anger at squandered possibilities, the flabby gut and the unkempt beard.' (AO Scott, The New York Times).

Robert Duvall revived

Crazy Heart echoes a couple of other movies: Payday (1973), starring Rip Torn as a self-absorbed country singer, and, in particular, the excellent Tender Mercies (1983), which also observed a drunken, down-on-his-luck country singer's rehabilitation thanks to a youthful woman and her young son. The latter film starred and was produced by Robert Duvall, who was instrumental in getting Crazy Heart made and plays a supporting role.

Maggie Gyllenhaal ‘brings warmth ... believability... and desperate hope' (Nev Pierce, Empire) to her portrayal of a mother who is attracted to someone she knows is inherently a huge risk. Colin Farrell's performance as Tommy Sweet is ‘keenly calibrated, underplayed' (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) and ‘compelling' (Guy Adams, The Independent)

Writer-director Scott Cooper was praised. His unobtrusive direction is itself like a relaxed country tune, opined Todd McCarthy in Variety. Roger Ebert, in the Chicago Sun-Times, thought that when Bad says to Jean: "I want to talk about how bad you make this room look", it is the kind of line a singer-songwriter would write. ‘So elegant and mature is the screenplay that it usually doesn't seem to have been written at all' (Kyle Smith, New York Post). 

 
Pro-files

Crazy Heart

JEFF BRIDGES

BAD BLAKE
JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his breakthrough role in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show in 1971 at the age of just 21. He hadn't so much pursued a career in the industry, as been born into it (his parents, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges, both acted, as does his brother, Beau) and he was on screen as an infant and an adolescent. He has gone on to establish a solid, often acclaimed career, earning five Oscar nominations, without shedding the aura of someone who could take or leave Hollywood success.

His performance in The Last Picture Show set the template for much of his subsequent career: amiability and a very human combination of vulnerability and self-assurance. He was a boxer in Fat City (1972), a stock-car driver in The Last American Hero (1973) and a Civil War draft-dodger in Bad Company (1972). His gentle foil to Clint Eastwood in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) earned him another Oscar nod.

A kind of half-hearted stardom followed: though Bridges played the lead in the likes of King Kong (1976), TRON (1982) and Starman (1984), the latter of which brought him his first Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor, he brought to them a reticence or humility that made it hard to categorise him as a hero in conventional terms. Films such as Jagged Edge (1985), The Fabulous Baker Boys in 1989 (alongside brother Beau), The Fisher King (1991) and Fearless (1993) made good use of his ambiguous persona, each film presenting him as a character with something to prove, conceal or get over.

But he's remained an essentially sympathetic presence - never more so than in what has probably become his defining role, as the Dude in the Coen brothers' outrageously jumbled latter-day noir pastiche The Big Lebowski (1998). A lovable stoner drop-out and cult-movie emblem of peaceable unworldliness, the character both drew on Bridges's past persona and set the template for near-reprises in the likes of The Moguls (2005) and animated feature Surf's Up (2007).

A sideline in suave villains established in the 1980s and perpetuated in the 1990s peaked with the role of Obadiah Stane in the smash Iron Man (2008), giving Bridges more career capital than he had enjoyed in some time. With Crazy Heart, plus another blockbuster (the sequel Tron Legacy) and another collaboration with the Coens (True Grit) in the works, Bridges has ambled, apparently without trying, to the top of his game.

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL

JEAN CRADDOCK

Like Bridges, film-making is the family business for Maggie Gyllenhaal. Having appeared in six pictures directed by her father Stephen Gyllenhaal, she was aptly cast as the sister of the eponymous Donnie Darko (2001), played by her brother Jake. Their all-too-realistic bickering showcased her ability to deploy a weary put-down as well as hinting at her capacity for twinkling mischief and emotional vulnerability - qualities amply exploited in the wry sub-dom-com Secretary (2002), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. Since then, she's appeared in John Sayles's Casa de los Babys (2003), won praise for her portrayal of an alcoholic mother in SherryBaby (2006) and played Bruce Wayne's love interest in smash blockbuster The Dark Knight (2008).

Gyllenhaal is also known for her political activism - she courted controversy with comments about the relationship between American foreign policy and the 9/11 attacks - and her relationship with Peter Sarsgaard, the actor to whom she is married and with whom she has a three-year-old daughter.

ROBERT DUVALL

WAYNE

After a spell in the army, Robert Duvall began appearing on stage and on television in the late 1950s. His first film role was as Boo Radley in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird. Other distinctive supporting roles followed, from the dastardly Ned Pepper in the John Wayne vehicle True Grit (1969) to Major Frank Burns in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), Tom Hagen in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather in 1972 (gaining the first of his six Oscar nominations) and The Godfather Part II (1974) and TV executive Frank Hackett in Network (1976). Perhaps most iconically, he was Lt Col Kilgore in Coppola's Apocalypse Now in 1979 ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning").

He played the lead in George Lucas's debut feature, THX 1138 (1971) and was nominated for a Best Leading Actor Oscar for The Great Santini (1979). In 1983, Duvall finally won a Best Leading Actor Oscar for Tender Mercies (1983), in which he played an alcoholic country singer. He worked consistently but often with a relatively low profile in the 1980s, in pictures such as The Natural (1984) and Colors (1988), but the decade ended with a celebrated role in TV mini-series Lonesome Dove (1989).  He would then feature as the foil to Michael Douglas's white male angst in Falling Down (1993); an editor-in-chief in cautionary tale The Paper (1994); and a fallible preacher in The Apostle (1997), which he wrote and directed and for which he won numerous awards. He was also Oscar-nominated for his role as a shrewdly eccentric corporate lawyer opposite John Travolta in A Civil Action (1998).

In recent years his parts have included blockbusters such as Deep Impact (1998), character pieces like Secondhand Lions (2003) and literary adaptations such as The Road (2009). On television he has played the eponymous Stalin (1992) and Adolf Eichmann in The Man Who Captured Eichmann (1996). He will shortly have the lead role in Get Low, a drama partly based on a true story about a 1930s Tennessee hermit who threw his own funeral party.

COLIN FARRELL

TOMMY SWEET

Born in Dublin in 1976, Colin Farrell's early roles included parts in Ballykissangel (1998-1999) and Tim Roth's film The War Zone (1999), before he broke into Hollywood with the lead in Joel Schumacher's 2000 war film Tigerland (2000). A major supporting role in Spielberg's Minority Report (2002) earned him more attention, as did leads in the action films Phone Booth (2002), SWAT (2003) and The Recruit (2003), the last opposite Al Pacino. His position as a major studio player was confirmed when Oliver Stone cast him in the lead role in Alexander, his 2004 biopic of the Macedonian leader. He also took one of the leads in The New World (2005), Terrence Malick's lyrical version of the Pocahontas story.

More A-list work has followed, including starring roles in Michael Mann's Miami Vice (2006) and Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream (2007), as well as a turn in Martin McDonagh's quirky assassin piece In Bruges (2008), for which Farrell won a Golden Globe.

Farrell was one of several actors, alongside Jude Law and Johnny Depp, to step into Heath Ledger's unfinished role in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) after Ledger's death in 2008. He has also been cast in At Swim-Two-Birds, an adaptation of the Flann O'Brien book to be directed by Farrell's In Bruges co-star Brendan Gleeson.

SCOTT COOPER

DIRECTOR, WRITER AND CO-PRODUCER
SCOTT COOPER
SCOTT COOPER WITH MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL AND JEFF BRIDGES

Crazy Heart is Scott Cooper's feature directing debut; his previous work in the movie industry has been primarily as an actor. Cooper trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York City and appeared in various low-profile projects, such as the black comedy thriller Perfect Fit (1999), as well as winning small roles in the likes of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and The X-Files (1999). He has worked on four pictures featuring Crazy Heart co-star Robert Duvall, the others being Civil War drama Gods and Generals (2003), western TV mini-series Broken Trail (2006) and the forthcoming Get Low (2009).

 
Cinemas

Crazy Heart

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