He Said: Crazy Heart
By Jamie D. Ruccio
February 4, 2010
All the truly great music is either about love or tragedy. Entire musical careers have been made by these two topics. Good rock 'n' roll or Country/Western songs, to say nothing of the blues, are about one of these very two things. And how often are artists harshly judged when they stop writing about their anguish and either fake it (and we all know when they do) or commit the sin of finding happiness? Gone is their ability to express for the rest of us the universal pains that burden us because of our self awareness (oh, to be a dumb, happy animal). But they serve a purpose in that their expression allows us to realize that we all feel similar things and somehow that is cathartic, to know that these troubles are not unique. The expression of these emotions allows us to admit that and perhaps move away from them. We begin to understand that if these things are collectively felt, that they are also routinely challenged and conquered.
If all this is true, Jeff Bridges' character, the self flagellantly named Bad Blake, is an utter failure as an artist and human being in the beginning of Crazy Heart. He is a once successful Country/Western singer whose personal flaws deny him all the things we all desire - success, fulfillment and ultimately happiness. Everywhere he turns he sees ruin; multiple failed marriages, an estranged child, a destroyed career, a raging alcohol problem and worst of all...the loss of the will to change any of it. He roams the country with his guitar in an old pick-up truck traveling from one small, desolate venue to the next. He plays in front of a few dozen die hard fans, smoking incessantly, comparison shopping for the cheapest whiskey and sleeping with his middle aged fans in joyless encounters. All the while, his failure as an artist is complete because he's not even able to turn all of this tragedy into music. he has written nothing and suffers from intense writers' block. Bad Blake is the saddest of all personalities in that he is simply waiting for it all to be over.
However, he meanders into the life of Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a small-time reporter and single, divorced mother of a little boy. She's much the junior to him and who has her own dose of anguish. But due to her youth and a bravely held spark of optimism she reminds him that happy things do exist in life. But even her contrary presence does not initiate his expected resurrection - quite the opposite. So deeply damaged is Bad that instead of being transformed by her, he continues on with his self destruction while she watches and is more and more affected by it. The audience watches as the damage he creates becomes ever more pervasive until it climaxes to a very predictable but frightening conclusion.
All of these is done with a very familiar story. In fact, Crazy Heart may have an exceedingly common plot but it is saved by its own deftly constructed characters. Things that advance the story are simple and foreshadowed, obviously; however, the script has a realistic quality. It lacks typical, Hollywood pyrotechnics. It has been reviewed by some as aimless but it has a genuine essence to it. Life sometimes isn't a series of dramatic moments with grand flourishes of artistic dialogue. Sometimes it is a slow moving series of quiet, horrific events experienced by a small number of helpless people. The inevitable conclusion is seen by these people and yet nothing can be done to alter the destination. It is one of the things that makes Crazy Heart and its story-craft successful and satisfying. Undeniably, the performances infuse the material so tremendously with exceptional - and in Bridges' case, career defining - performances that it elevates it into now award winning caliber.