The good news is, the Dude is back. The even better news is, he’s in top form and in a great picture. Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, an alcoholic, washed-out, has-been country music singer not caring much about anything after four failed marriages, a son abandoned years ago, a career mauled by alcohol and a star fading as rose that of a younger protégé, Tom Sweet. Bad sets the bar fairly low——keeping in booze and smokes is all he wants. He achieves it by performing—sort of—in small-town dive bars and bowling alleys in front of a scattered aging public who remembers him from back in the day.
Bad is a wreck of a man, big, bloated, and unkempt. Jeff Bridges gives his signature laid back, understated performance so well you completely forget he is an actor playing a part. He becomes Bad Blake and you can almost smell the rank odor from his thick body, his greasy thinning gray hair, his breath stinking of cheap whiskey and non-stop smoking. He picks up the occasional blowsy, way-past-her-prime broad out of the few who come to him after his performance when he’s able to see one through.
Then he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a different type. It doesn’t take much for him to fall in love and for her to see beyond the years-encrusted derelict through to the good man and great musician that he still is. After which, things change and then change again, ending up not where we thought they would.
First-time filmmaker Scott Cooper works too close to life for “Crazy Heart” to be pat, wrapped and delivered according to formula. And close to life also means close to country music mores where basically decent characters broken by life gamely pick up and start hoping once more.
The performances are terrific. Jeff Bridges is Bad Blake, the Dude more grizzled and older but certainly none the wiser. Watching him, you wonder if one reason the actor has not reached top status is because he makes it all look too easy. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives her most expressive and nuanced role to date. An unbilled Colin Farrell is electric and explodes with talent as the charismatic Tommy Sweet. Robert Duvall is staunchly Robert Duvall which is to say faultless. The country music numbers, anything but slick, count both foot-stomping tunes and dreamier ones, all with fine lyrics.
Go see “Crazy Heart” quickly. It’s too good to remain on screens long (remember how quickly “The Wrestler” vanished?) and really should be seen in a theater. Beside being super entertaining, this no-frill, straightforward and honest film reminds us of a couple of basic facts: 1)alcohol is a bitch, 2) Jeff Bridges’ Oscar is long overdue (photo: Twentieth Century Fox, 2009).