Crazy Heart Is Crazy Good 

Starring Oscar-nominated Jeff Bridges

Not every story need be unique. Not every film needs to fashion an unexampled fantasy for big-studio script-monkeys to sample for seat-selling sensationalism. It's the absolute normality, the unfortunately everyday drama, of a film like Crazy Heart, actor Scott Cooper's directorial debut, that makes it compelling. The tale may be nothing new, but like a well-worn hat or pair of boots, the portrayal of a washed-up country crooner inhabits a comfortable--though rarely comforting--corner of our social psyche, creating a relatable tragedy. What sets Crazy Heart apart from similar films is a superlative script, a right-pitch soundtrack and a knockout lead performance.

In this Oscar-nominated role, Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a one-time headlining warbler who now, at age 57, plays pickup gigs in side-street saloons and tiredly tours the Southwest in his beat-up Suburban. A man as comfortable cradling the neck of a whiskey bottle as he is the neck of his Fender guitar, Bad's path to self-destruction seems an open road until he meets journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The two enter a slow, confused romance, Jean aware that Bad can't make a good partner--with a zero-for-four record--and Bad hoping he can learn to be. As part of his reformation, Bad agrees to open for his former protege, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), whose star has far surpassed that of his mentor.

Following that humbling experience, Bad takes an extended hiatus at home in Texas, where Jean and her young son join him for a visit. But Bad's hard-living ways catch up to him, and a mid-afternoon bar stop leads to the boy's disappearance. Although the event sobers Bad up--literally and figuratively--it's a transformation that may come too late for Jean.

It sometimes takes a mediocre performance to demonstrate the brilliance of another. The salt-of-the-earth society Bad inhabits is one peppered with shy talkers and let-it-be lassitude, so it's initially difficult to appreciate the subtlety of Bridges' performance. Bad Blake is not a wordy man and his emotions are best expressed by the lyrics of his music. "I used to be somebody," he sings early on. "Now I am somebody else." It's only with the interjection of a less lived-in appearance, in this case an antsy showing by Farrell, that manifests how fully comfortable Bridges is in the role. His take on the weary, hopeful, slothful, repentant Bad is a revelation. Both Bridges and Farrell perform their own songs in the film, demonstrating a remarkable amount of talent. Gyllenhaal gives strong support, and Robert Duvall's small appearance adds a sweet harmony.

Director Cooper, working from his own screenplay, has crafted a delicate, finely tuned work. Like 2008's redemption tale The Wrestler, Crazy Heart avoids saccharine storytelling to present a subdued story of second chances. Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett's (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) deftly compiled soundtrack serves both as a tribute to old-time country music and, lyrically, an underlying narration of the characters' thoughts. Although Crazy Heart's plotline may be familiar, an old song sung well is well worth a repeat play.

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