Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bad, Bad Bridges

Like Mickey Rourke's Randy 'The Ram' Robinson in 2008's The Wrestler, Jeff Bridges' Bad Blake is an American artist past his prime and down on his luck. Gigging in bars and bowling alleys, driving himself and his guitar hundreds of miles a day in his '70s Chevy Silverado, Blake's life seems bleak, if blessed, in moments of amber light, by a loyal base of mature country-blues fans. When he meets lovely journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in Santa Fe, he's forced to temper his habit for whiskey (the made-up brand "McClure's") to be with her and her four-year-old son. But when temperance slips, just for a moment, redemption seems like it might be out of Bad's grasp.

It's a strong man's moment of weakness, in keeping with any redemption story, and accompanied by the sense that each nadir is characteristic of something inescapable, of a long life of low moments. "Where do your songs come from?" Jean asks Bad. His answer -- "Life, unfortunately," -- perfectly befits a country-blues guitarist, but the evidence presented in Crazy Heart seems to say otherwise; that Bad is surrounded by only good. From the manic kindness of his fishing buddy Wayne (a brilliant support by Robert Duvall) to the graciousness and talent of the many musicians who back him, to the gratitude and monetary support of his successful protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) to the love and support of fellow addicts in rehab, Bad Blake is not a man alone, but a man cared for. Unlike Aronofsky's dark Jersey story, the southwest of Crazy Heart is pink and sunlit, buoying up its fallen heroes.

The small film is strong because of an artful, tight script (writer/director Scott Cooper's adaptation of Thomas Cobb's novel) and gorgeous performances. Bridges (somehow both irrefutably attractive and the spitting image of Kris Kristofferson) is resilient, Gyllenhaal is sexy and complex (as always), and especially Duvall delivers a real performance. The way that Cooper pimps the almost pornographic beauty of big skies and sunsets in the southwest, a good man's redemption seems lovely, and inevitable, like the turning of the globe or the chord progression in a good country song.

Jeff Bridges interview with clips on NPR.

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