Jeff Bridges gives genius portrayal in ‘Crazy Heart’

Posted Jan. 28, 2010, at 5:41 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

CRAZY HEART, written and directed by Scott Cooper, 101 minutes, rated R.

Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” offers audiences nothing new — we’ve been here before, most recently in the film that revived Mickey Rourke’s career, “The Wrestler.” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the movie when (or if) it arrives locally in theaters.

In fact, you absolutely should see it, particularly since its star, Jeff Bridges, is favored to win the Academy Award for best actor for his authentic performance as the talented, down-on-his-luck country singer Bad Blake. This might, in fact, be the best performance of Bridges’ career. And he might, in fact, just take home the award.

Cooper’s screenplay is based on Thomas Cobb’s novel, and what he creates with Bridges is something troubling, humbling and sad, but most of all, it’s memorable, powerful and it resonates.

While there are issues with the story itself — it’s a bit rushed, particularly at the end, in which it’s suggested that the struggle for sobriety apparently isn’t much of a struggle at all — there are zero issues with what Bridges brings to the screen.

As Blake, he is nothing short of the real thing, an aging country singer somewhere in his 50s who no longer sings his hit songs to the masses. Instead, he now headlines bowling alleys and saloons, skirting from one gig to the next in an old truck that, mirroring Blake himself, is just about out of gas.

It’s in New Mexico that he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist whose career could benefit from an interview with Blake. He gives her one, a few drinks pass hands, and before you know it, they’re in a relationship. But what to do with Jean’s young son, who Blake adores, likely because he abandoned his own son (now an adult) around the same age? As a bond grows between them all, the movie manufactures a few moments of cliched melodrama, but rising above it is Bridges, who is so loose onscreen it’s difficult to imagine that he knew a camera was on him at all.

That’s the genius of his performance. He’s so lost in the role, the lines blur between character and actor to the point where audiences are left with admiration for Bridges’ work (he sings every song here — and well), and with pity for Blake, who knows he needs to pull himself together. Otherwise, his romance with Jean is shot.

Rounding out the cast is a very good Colin Farrell as the successful country singer Tommy Sweet, who learned the ropes from Blake, and Robert Duvall as a bar owner and one of Blake’s best friends. Those who remember 1983’s “Tender Mercies,” in which Duvall won the Academy Award, will easily draw parallels between the two films.

Come March 7, when the Academy Awards air on ABC, they might be drawing another.

Grade: B+

On DVD and Blu-ray Disc

The home video unit of the BBC has been nailing it lately, with several releases worthy of note. At the end of the year, when it’s time to decide which boxed set was the year’s best, the BBC’s “Atlas of the Natural World: Africa and Europe, Western Hemisphere and Antarctica” might just be the one at the top. It’s so good it’s worth making the time to watch it twice.

Newly released on 12 discs, the set digs into the Earth’s fantastic nooks and crannies in ways that raise questions (and awe) about how the filmmakers captured certain shots and also reveal just how little we still know about our planet, its inhabitants and its people. The photography is as rich and as stunning as anything you’d expect from the BBC, which has some of the world’s finest cinematographers. You watch each show in admiration for the effort, and come away grateful for having experienced something new about the world you likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Also from the BBC are two titles in their “Cranford” series — ”The Cranford Collection” and “Return to Cranford” — each of which continue stories created by novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. The former stars two dames — Dame Judi Dench and Dame Eileen Atkins, so you can imagine the drama they generate onscreen. The latter stars Dench, Imelda Staunton and Francesca Annis, so you can imagine the heaving, the fretting and the machinations they bring to the story, which is as substantial as you might expect.

Those seeking something a bit more edgy from the BBC should turn to the seventh season of “MI-5,” which is Britain’s version of the FBI and CIA, and which continues to produce the sort harrowing drama you’d expect from an organization created to police the world while also keeping Britain safe. Meanwhile, personal relationships also must be handled, usually with delicacy and deceit. Rupert Penry-Jones is the standout as Adam Carter, the widowed agent who leads his staff into and out of danger, though not always successfully, and Richard Armitage is a fine new addition to the cast. A smart, beautifully written and acted series that shows no signs of fatigue.

For science fiction with a British twist, try the recent edition from the Doctor Who franchise, “Doctor Who: The Specials,” which is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. In it, you’ll find plenty of action in “The Next Doctor,” “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time, Parts One and Two.” Also new to DVD from the BBC are the eleventh and twelfth seasons of “Top Gear,” which especially will appeal to car fetishists; the ingenious detective series (with a magician’s twist), “Jonathan Creek: Season Four”; David Attenborough’s controversial series, “Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life”; and the second season of the detective series, “New Tricks.”

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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