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Crazy Heart

dir: Scott Cooper
[img_assist|nid=1294|title=Alcohol makes you more interesting, and smoking makes you cool|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=448]
I didn’t like this film. I don’t like Green Eggs and Ham, either, but the fact still remains that I really didn’t think Crazy Heart was a good flick at all. At all.

Even as I acknowledge that Jeff Bridges is a wonderful, wonderful man, and I’m happy to see him get an Academy Award for his services to the acting profession, it’s painfully obvious to me that he got it not for this performance, but because of his body of work.

You know, star turns in stuff like Star Man, Blown Away and How to Lose Friends and Alienate people.

Yes, he’s done great stuff in the past, but it’s hard seeing the character he plays here as being the pinnacle of his performances.

Bad Blake (Bridges) is a country singer / songwriter, who’s never hit the big time. He ekes out an existence playing shitty venues (most ironically, at film’s beginning, a bowling alley, considering The Big Lebowski) for booze money. We are given to understand that Bad could have been somebody, a contender even, if his alcoholism, boozing, drinking and pride hadn’t gotten in the way.

Because his songs, you know, are just awesome!

His version of a hardcore, 56-year-old drunk is someone who gets wicked hangovers and who throws up occasionally. None of the grim actual reality of people losing fights with lampposts, shitting and pissing themselves or ruined bodies and faces for this Oscar winner.

No, this is the audience-friendly version. As such, it shames me to say this, considering how much I love the man, the performance is coasting of the highest order. Anyone, any man at least or sufficiently butch woman, could have played this clichéd role, in a film so cliché I could predict (much to my partner’s irritation) everything that was going to happen, how and when.

I don’t consider myself to be any great shakes as an actor, or an actor at all, or any kind of actor with the shakes, but I would argue that I could have given a portrait of sufficient or equal credibility as this. Why? Because anyone can play a drunk. All you have to do is get drunk and act irritating, and who can’t do that?

The script, which as least doesn’t cheapen the ending, allows for the kind of trajectory that anyone can track just from looking at the poster for the flick. His name’s Bad. He’s a rock-bottom drunk. What else is going to happen either than a) die in a fiery wreck killing two busloads of orphans, or b) he stops drinking because that’s what we want him to do? Because we care, don’t you know?

Well, I didn’t care. He didn’t feel like a real character at all. And his redemption was the least believable and fleeting sequence of the flick. And the source of his desire to change was unconvincing from the start.

Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a reporter who falls in love with Bad, and who somehow thinks Bad, a derelict drunk thirty years her senior, could be a good partner for her and a decent father figure to her four-year-old son Buddy. Let’s leave aside how irritating her character is, and how Gyllenhaal’s eye-rolling performance from the start undercuts any meaningful dialogue or thematic relevance she could impart to the enterprise. We have to accept it because that’s what happens, and because not only is it the ‘plot’, but it’s meant to be a catalyst that gives Bad hope that he has something to live for, and that he could have something worth changing for, to make up for the mistakes of the past.

The problem is, he doesn’t see it that way until the contrivances mount up, essentially gives him no other recourse but to follow the path of least resistance despite his character being set up as a guy who only follows the hardest path of drunken resistance because he’s been an unrepentant asshole for his entire life.

It’s hard to make a character shift like this, which we know is coming, because otherwise no-one considers it Oscar-worthy, meaningful more than inevitable. So my biggest problem is that they know where they want the character to get: repentant and redeemed, but they struggle over the arbitrary way they’re going to get him there.

It depends on the kind of person you are: Are you focussed on the journey, or the destination? Both are important, I guess, but the degree to which one leans towards one being more important than the other might dictate whether you’d find how they compel Bad Blake to come to grips with his addiction a confection too hard to swallow.

I did find it too hard to accept, way too hard. Impossible, in fact, and it was the final nail in the coffin of a flick I never really accepted in the first place. None of the problems I have in the flick have anything to do with performance: the acting is fine, throughout. Bridges, Gyllenhaal (to a lesser degree), Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell all do well with what’s given to them, but it’s what’s given to them that I have the biggest problem with.

The flick, after the obligatory hitting of rock bottom, deals up a serving of Twelve Steps so light, breezy and easy (it takes up a minute or two of screen time), that it resonates not at all. It’s meant to get us to the place where we accept, and are grateful that things seem to be getting better for all concerned, but to me it felt unearned, and thus undercut anything that might have remained with me.

You can’t really talk about a flick like this without delving into some of the musical stuff, although I would argue it’s not as central as you’d think. T Bone Burnett is the other person involved with this flick who collected one of those shiny golden statues this year for this flick, and it was for his song The Weary Kind. It’s a nice enough song, and it’s infinitely more memorable than the other crap in the flick. I’m the first to admit the genre it depicts is not one that I’m a big fan of, but I know enough of the outlaw country singers Bad is meant to be channelling to know that he’s no Waylon Jennings. He’s not even Shooter Jennings.

Sorry, I meant he ain’t even Shooter Jennings. Ain’t is a word you hear a lot whenever people are either pretending to be Texans or when they’re talking down to their audience, you decide which is which in this case.

I’m happy that Jeff’s happy. I’m certainly not happy about this flick. It sells its characters cheap, and it doesn’t earn the sentiment it tries to wring from its audience, so it’s not an experience I care to recommend to anyone, especially fans of overproduced hillbilly music.

You’re welcome, world.

4 times I wonder as to the wisdom of leaving a four-year-old child with an old drunk with a broken ankle if you’re not otherwise intellectually disabled out of 10

“Fucking bowling alley...” – the Dude fallen so low, Crazy Heart.