These last couple of years have seen a resurgence of a particular kind of character study. For me I think it started with The Wrestler. For Mickey Rourke, it was a powerful comeback and led to an example of grand theft at that year’s Oscar celebration. Now, I wouldn’t exactly say that Jeff Bridges was in any particular need of a comeback. He’s had some pretty steady work over the years. Still, you just can’t watch Crazy Heart and not be reminded of The Wrestler. These characters could not be more different in a lot of ways. But they are also cut from the same cloth. Both have already seen their glory days behind them. They’ve each indulged in some pretty self-destructive behavior. In The Wrestler, it could be argued that the abuse he put on his body was a necessary part of the life he chose. With Crazy Heart, we’re talking alcoholism, pure and simple. Still, any of those old cowboys might make the argument that booze is as much a part of the life they choose as the drugs and physical punishment are for a wrestler. It’s a pretty good point. Both characters are looking for some kind of redemption with a past child. In this case it’s a son. Both are attempting to find healthy relationships, perhaps for the first time in their lives, with single moms who have had some bad luck in the romance department. Finally, both characters are looking for a comeback. Here is where the stories truly diverge. For Mickey Rourke’s Ram, he returns because it’s the only thing he knows. His job defined him. His comeback will likely mean the end of his life. For Bad Blake, the new career in music could well be his salvation and a chance at a longer life. Whatever the comparisons, both are strong character-driven pieces.
Bad Blake (Bridges) was once on the top of the country charts. But that was a long time ago. Today, he’s driving around in his Suburban from gig to gig with about 10 bucks to his name. He’s gone from great arenas to bowling allies and small-town dives. He still has a small core group of fans that make even this life possible. The trouble is that Bad chain smokes and drinks his health away. He can barely stand for one gig. His old guitar player Tommy Sweet (Farrell) has offered him the chance to open for his act. More important, Sweet wants him to write some new songs for him, and is willing to pay well for them.
He has to rely on local musicians at each stop to back him up. At one club he runs into an extraordinary piano player. He’s so grateful to have a quality musician for once that he grants the local player a request. His niece is a reporter who is trying to make her mark at the local paper. Would he grant her an interview?
Enter Jane (Gyllenhaal). He is immediately attracted to the young reporter. Of course, at first that doesn’t appear too surprising. Bad likes the ladies, after all. But Jane is different, and he soon falls for the woman and her young son. When his drinking ends him in an accident and the hospital, it’s Jane he calls for help. She nurses him back together and Bad bonds with her son. As Bad heads back to home base in Houston, he invites the two to visit. When they do, Bad loses the boy while stopping at a bar to get a drink. The kid is fine, but Jane is outta here. Bad has finally hit rock bottom. Will he use it to clean up his life? Check out Crazy Heart to find out.
As I’ve already hinted at, this entire film stands on the performance of Jeff Bridges. He completely takes on the persona of Bad Blake, and we believe him from the first moment we see him. Maggie Gyllenhaal is absolutely fine as Jane, but it is Bridges who makes it all work. It’s the kind of character you want to feel sorry for. At the same time, you really feel like he brought it all on himself and is not deserving of our sympathy. He once had it all, and he drank it away. That’s a lot of history to pack into one performance. But it’s all right there almost immediately. Bridges is about to have a busy next year or so. He’s in the very much anticipated Tron sequel and a remake of The Duke’s True Grit. If he can bring this kind of intensity to those roles, we’re in for some good times ahead.
Crazy Heart is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. This is a solid Blu-ray/high definition transfer. You won’t have anything spilling out of the screen in glorious colors. But that’s not what this film is about. The color and detail are spot-on reference. This brings the story to life in a very natural way. The detail level allows you to witness firsthand the wear on Bad’s face that his lifestyle has caused. The surroundings are intended to look drab and rather depressing. This is the life we’re examining. And it ain’t that pretty at all.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 delivers at every turn. There’s not anything overwhelming or aggressive about the mix. The musical numbers don’t get the amount of time and play that they should. I would have liked to have heard more. When they are presented, they sound good. It’s a soft blues-derivative kind of sound. It works both for the character and the atmosphere. Dialog is usually fine.
Let me talk about menus for a second. There is a very annoying trend in Blu-ray of late. It appears that the engineers like putting in fancy progress lines and a huge screenshot icon whenever you pause or fast move through the disc. I really hate that. It’s impossible to pause and just look at a frame. Every now and then I want to put on the subtitles and go back to something said softly. You can’t read them; if you pause the image because of the menu that can’t be removed. Let’s see if you studio engineers can help me out here a little. How about it?
All are in HD.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Music Cuts: (28:22) There’s actually a lot of good stuff here. There was an entire deleted story arc where Bad actually gets invited to visit his long-lost son.
What Brought Them To Crazy Heart: (3:02) Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Robert Duvall talk about how they came to be involved in the film.
Robert Duvall has a small cameo as Bad’s friend back home in Houston. Duvall is really one of the producers of the film, and the work appears to suite him well. You don’t have to be a fan of country music to appreciate this film any more than you had to be a wrestling fan to enjoy The Wrestler. That’s the mark of a truly good movie. Can it appeal to folks beyond what might be considered its core audience? This one absolutely will. I think you should give it a try. Will you like it as much as I do? Probably, but, “Baby, I don’t know”.