Still from 2009's "Crazy Heart."

Bridges’ versatile talent is often something forgotten by the general population — and then remembered from time to time — both because he doesn’t have the presence of a capital A Actor behind the scenes and because his performances are never maximalist.

 

In his personal life, Bridges has been happily married for 40 years, is the father of three daughters, and considers music to be among his great passions. (And in interviews, he’s accessible and good-humored.) In his professional one, we’ve seen excellent portrayals usually naturalistically played; he’s as able to convincingly play a rugged Southern gentleman as he is a groomed man in a suit, always without a sort of wink that might otherwise remind us that we’re witnessing a performance and not an embodiment.

 

Sometimes it takes a movie like 2009’s moving Crazy Heart to remind us how remarkable an actor Bridges is. One grows so accustomed to his chameleonic skill set that it’s not uncommon to take his performative flexibility for granted. In the film, his character, a former bigwig country singer and current alcoholic, undergoes an arc we’ve witnessed a countless number of times: addict hits rock bottom but ends up finding redemption through sobriety and even love (here with the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal). 

 

An actor missing Bridges’ artistry might have turned Crazy Heart into a better-than-average independent film featuring a better-than-average performance. But Bridges embellishes his portrayal with such emotional clarity and such compassion that we feel as though we’re viewing something of distinct vibrancy. What could have been hackneyed Oscar bait becomes touching and poignant, and much of that rests on Bridges’ sturdy shoulders and on the stirring writing and directing of Scott Cooper, having made his debut as a filmmaker with the feature.

 

The film overcomes everything that might have doomed it to triteness. The romance between Bridges’ Bad Blake and Gyllenhaal’s music journalist Jean might have felt false, most obviously because of the mammoth age gap between them and because of how quickly they fall for one another. But we buy it: we see a loose, loving union that feels just about right. Both characters are aware that things likely are not going to work out, but they nonetheless maintain a tenderness resounding enough to make our hearts hurt. 

 

The “rivalry” resting between Bad and the younger, faux rough and tough country star Tommy (Colin Farrell) could have been built on snippy exchanges and hard feelings — a chance for us to more loudly feel Blake’s despair and how hostile the entertainment industry can be. But like the connection between Bad and Jean, there’s sensitivity and care here. Tommy looks up to Bad as if he were his very own musical father and does everything he can to help relieve him of his professional woes. (Currently, Bad’s tours mostly consist of headlining boring shows in bowling alleys and bars.) Scenes that find Bad and Tommy performing together are beneficial, too — miraculously, Bridges and Farrell do sound like the country singers they’re emulating. 

 

So much about Crazy Heart is predictable and romanticized. From the moment we’re introduced to Bad, we’re confident — and right — about where the story’s headed. But the movie’s performers are so affecting that its recurring familiarities don’t hurt its capacity to rouse. It earned Bridges an Academy Award and Gyllenhaal a nomination, and was understandably heralded in 2009 as one of the year’s great movies,. And considering its meager beginnings (the film was going to be a direct-to-video release until Fox Searchlight saw its potential and distributed it theatrically), that’s a victory. B+

DIRECTED BY

Scott Cooper

 

STARRING

Jeff Bridges

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Colin Farrell

Robert Duvall

Paul Herman

Jack Nation

Ryan Bingham

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2009

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 52 Mins.

Crazy Heart September 16, 2017        

dd how Jeff Bridges is not always an obvious candidate when the Great Actors™ are brought up. Imagine one of those psychological exercises in which the participant must think of the first thing that comes to mind when prompted with an idea or an image. If the title of the “greatest actor” is suggested, one is quick to jump to Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, or perhaps even Nicolas Cage as their hurried pick. Is such because these aforementioned actors are known for their extremism, their overt dedication to their roles? Is it because they carry an offscreen persona that encourages ideas that they are not, in fact, human?

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