A vehicle as carved and corroded as the roads on which it drives glides its way across pristine countryscapes, marking off another day. As it reaches its destination — a small-town bowling alley in the heart of the American Southwest — we get our first glimpse at country music’s notorious rebel, Bad Blake. He exits his dirt-covered chariot with belt unbuckled, pants unbuttoned, and shirt untucked. He is a road warrior, the true savant of the old days of relentless touring and hard living.
Crazy Heart follows the 57-year-old Blake (Jeff Bridges), a broken-down country star with little more than a truck, equipment, and clothes to his name. He tours the dives time forgot, entertaining a host of backwater fans who are as old and weary as the country legend they worship. Blake is a walking cliché of misbehavior, giving in to the sins of chain smoking, loveless sex, and excessive drinking. Near the end of his latest tour, he meets Santa Fe music journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman half his age who has suffered many of the heartbreaks and misconceptions that have plagued his own life. The two eventually fall in love, but Blake’s bad habits stand as the roadblock to their blossoming relationship.
And therein lays the rub of Crazy Heart. The film relies on two significant factors to prop up its predictable plot: believability and a unique vision. Bridges, who recently earned a Golden Globe award for the role, earns every accolade he’s received. A veritable doppelganger of Kris Kristofferson, Bridges brings authenticity to Bad Blake through a mix of hospitality and charisma. Gyllenhaal matches Bridges by lending her sexual aura to a role just as casual. The two leads ooze chemistry despite the script’s typical May-December romance, as Blake and Jean fall head over heels for each other after he suffers injuries in a sleep-induced accident.
It’s the many worn-out plot points that ultimately hinders Crazy Heart. In the film’s first two acts, director and writer Scott Cooper does a brilliant job of taking the story to the precipice of cliché without jumping over it. Blake may be a walking PSA against hard living, but the character has a heart and a purpose beyond making a few bucks playing old favorites. When he is given the opportunity to play for a larger audience, supporting his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), he hems and haws before doing the unexpected: taking the gig. When Tommy and Blake meet for the first time in years, the two fall into their old pattern without forsaking their friendship or the audience’s belief in their established personalities. There is no bickering and no resentment, just two old friends — one on the upswing, the other in a nosedive — hoping to recapture a bit of their brotherhood.
But Crazy Heart fails in its final act. Cooper struggles to tie everything together when Blake ruins his relationship with Jean. The film spirals into the ho-hum boilerplate it had always threatened to become, and no amount of award-winning acting can resuscitate it. The damage has been done, and despite its fantastic soundtrack, Crazy Heart becomes the stereotypical country song gone wrong.