Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crazy Heart (Review)

     Growing up in small (extremely small) town Texas, I have a healthy dislike for Country music.  So does "Crazy Heart."  It might seem like a meaningless distinction, but "Crazy Heart" is more about the very old school Country/Western/West Texas kind of not quite Country, not quite Rock, not quite Folk music that has a real authenticity to it without being pretentious or superior about exactly how authentic it is the way modern Country music tends to be.  The kind musical background that gives us artists ranging from Willie Nelson to Janis Joplin.  This may make this review a bit biased, but the characters and situations in this film are real (to me, anyway.)  I've known them and people like them all my life.  "Crazy Heart" is a real, down to earth drama that doesn't claim that down to earth is somehow superior like so much commercialized, so called, Country music does today.

     "Crazy Heart" is about aging Country and Western star Bad Blake, played Jeff Bridges. Bad Blake is fifty-seven, broke, alcoholic, and is now consigned to playing gigs in small bars in the middle of nowhere and bowling alleys.  On one of these gigs he meets small town reporter and hopeful writer Jean Craddock, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.  She has a bit of an infatuation for this aging music icon and the has been Country and Western star is drawn to the occasional glimpses of family life he gets from Jean and her 4 year old son.  Add to this Tommy Sweet, played by Colin Farrell, a former member of Bad Blake's band in Blake's glory days and a current Country/Pop star who has reverence for his former mentor for teaching him everything he knows about music and resentment about his fallen idol's alcohol soaked condition.  Eventually, Bad Blake finds redemption in these two and the strength to crawl out of the bottle and write new music, even if he's not the star who's playing it anymore.

     "Crazy Heart" is an almost shockingly realistic drama and story of redemption that really lets you get to know the best and worst of its characters without getting preachy or saccharine.  Bridges' Bad Blake has a realistic, hard edge to him that isn't endearing but is very human and allows you to connect with his character and his character's situation in a very real and meaningful way.  As I said before, I may be biased because of this, but I have known people like Bad Blake all my life, and Bridges Blake was hauntingly familiar to me as were some of the other supporting characters.  Gyllenhaal is similarly authentic as the single mother who, rightfully, fears Bad Blake's alcoholic exterior but loves his warm and caring inner self.  She makes it easy to both empathize with her need to feel some kind of love and painful to watch her making the same mistakes over and over again.  The story may not be overly surprising, but it is realistic and it seems, even the characters themselves can see most of what's coming, but, just like real life, they allow themselves to be pulled into all to familiar and destructive paths until something or someone comes along to pull them out or remind them about the things in life that are worth living for.

     Despite my extreme aversion to Country music, I thoroughly enjoyed "Crazy Heart," and I hope its Western flavor doesn't stop others from enjoying this well acted, well written, drama about some very flawed, but very real characters.

     Seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse and having their "Crazy Heart" themed Biscuit-Battered Bourbon Steak Fingers, made with Bad Blake's three favorite foods, buttermilk biscuits, steak, and bourbon, didn't hurt the experience either.  If you are ever in Austin, go to the Drafthouse.  You won't regret it.

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