Bridges is crazy good in 'Crazy Heart'

Friday, January 29, 2010 at 12:40am

Bridges and Gyllenhall in Crazy Heart

Longtime actor Scott Cooper's first directorial venture makes no attempt at innovation, yet it ultimately succeeds far more than many films with loftier ambitions.

That's because Cooper's film Crazy Heart serves as a sterling showcase for Jeff Bridges, a master at reshaping familiar figures into singular characters. Bridges' latest triumph is grizzled former country star Bad Blake, a storytelling wizard and musical maverick who's spent nearly 40 years on the road.

Now on the downside of a major career, he composes tunes in flophouse rooms and spends more time turning up shot glasses than hits. That changes after an encounter in Santa Fe with a single mother/journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who sees past the demons that always threaten any possible long-term happiness he might achieve.

Indeed, it's her desire to trust Blake in spite of her doubts that eventually leads to trouble.

In Crazy Heart, which opened Friday, Bridges perfectly conveys Blake's innate goodness and simmering anger. He also captures the troubadour mentality that keeps performers plugging away years after they've disappeared from the charts, long since replaced by the likes of his former protege turned superstar Tommy Sweet (a superb performance from Colin Farrell).

While random women seem drawn to Blake despite his penchant for lewd, drunken behavior, his few real friends never desert him, especially a longtime comrade and bar owner (played by Robert Duvall with rugged aplomb).

While writer-director Cooper has publicly downplayed inevitable comparisons to Tender Mercies, the 1983 honky-tonk chamber piece that earned Oscars for Duvall and Horton Foote's original screenplay, he's certainly been equally faithful to that tale's working-class musical and acting virtues.

T-Bone Burnett, the late Stephen Bruton and Ryan Bingham (who also has a cameo role and sings the climatic theme song) compiled excellent traditional country music for the soundtrack that enlivens and anchors the production, and Bridges sings and plays in a loose, fluid manner that further buttresses his portrayal.