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On Movies: Crazy about 'Crazy Heart'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 20, 2010 - The Golden Globe voters got at least one thing right at their awards ceremony last Sunday night. They gave Jeff Bridges a best actor statue for his magnetic performance in "Crazy Heart" as a washed-up country singer named Bad Blake.

You can tell by the name alone that Bad was once considered an "Outlaw," riding high along with Waylon and Willie and the boys, but now he's playing crossroads dives and bowling alleys where the balls keep crashing into pins as he sings about the wild side of life. He drinks way too much, smokes like a man on a suicide mission and has an unfriendly word for almost everyone he encounters, including the poor local musicians who have been hired to play behind him.

With his unkempt, grizzled beard, a late-middle-age roll around his belly and his slept-in clothes, Bad looks more like a derelict than an outlaw. So, naturally, a pretty woman half his age falls in love with him.

In terms of plot, "Crazy Heart" is less a feature film than an extended country song. At times it's predictable, but it's still a good song, heartfelt and funny and sad.

"Crazy Heart," adapted by writer-director Scott Cooper from a novel by Thomas Cobb, is blessed with fine, unforced performances.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is quietly stunning as the flirtatious, soul-scarred single mother who knows all of Bad Blake's old songs and can't resist the current version of the man. Jeff Bridges helps us believe she could fall for this disheveled reclamation project with a performance that lets an inner tenderness seep out through a crust of world-weary belligerence and cynicism. And Irish actor Colin Farrell is right on as a slick country-rock singing star who once idolized Bad Blake, and now tries, without much help from the older man, to pull him back on his feet.

Ultimately, "Crazy Heart" is an enjoyable and perhaps even memorable movie not because of the story, which has certainly been told before, but because of the honky-tonk world the film creates, the interesting people who inhabit that world, and the superb songs that Bridges gets to play and sing. The music, by T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton, it will break your heart.

Harper Barnes,  the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, has also been a long-time reviewer of movies. 

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