Don’t get me wrong. Crazy Heart is not a movie that deserved to go straight-to-video, which — like Slumdog Millionaire, it almost did. Jeff Bridges’ central performance, as alcoholic country star Bad Blake, is excellent, and sustains the movie. The songs, by T. Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton are catchy. The directing, by first-time writer/director Scott Cooper, is even-handed.
The only problem is in Cooper’s writing. Sure, his dialogue is authentic and rarely strikes a sour note. But the plotting… oh, the interminable plotting…
The story doesn’t really kick in until 35 or so minutes into the movie, and it is far too easy for Blake to give up the sauce when he puts his mind to it. Even given the unlikely romance between the Blake and Maggie Gyllenhall’s put-together reporter character, I never quite rooted for Blake. He’s too self-absorbed and more than a little gross.
Better the movie started with him vomiting in a trashcan, and showed him gradually cleaning his life up, only to screw it up not once, but twice. A movie about a whiskey-addict quitting drinking with the help of his bartender friend (Robert Duvall) that does not contain a relapse is more of a fantasy than Lord of the Rings.
The presence of Robert Duvall in the movie only serves as a reminder of 1983’s Tender Mercies, another movie about an alcoholic country singer trying to sober up in the presence of a single mother and her kid. Tender Mercies not only won Duvall an Oscar, it also won the screenwriter, master of subtlety Horton Foote, an Oscar as well. If you haven’t seen Tender Mercies, then watch it first. It’s just as slow-moving as Crazy Heart, but it earns its central character’s redemption.