Without an actor of Jeff Bridges' caliber at the helm, there would be very little to recommend Crazy Heart (rated R for profanity and one sex scene), a story Hollywood has told many times before. A down-and-out artist type plods through the wreckage of his life abusing substances and blowing second chances. Last year it was The Wrestler, and before that it was Capote, Ray, Walk the Line, and Pollock. What props these movies up is the ability of the actors to create a person who is hard to like but impossible not to care about.
As country crooner Bad Blake, Bridges may have accomplished this better than any of those who came before him. The earnest charm, the moments of clarity and regret, and the amazing talent he imbues Blake with make us long for the singer's redemption. Sadly, his path of deliverance is not nearly as engaging or authentic as the man himself.
While touring through a series of low-rent saloons, Blake begins a romance with a much-younger single mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal). After meeting her, he begins to write songs again, and after losing her, he finally resolves to get sober. Their relationship acts merely as a device to drive Blake's development forward, and by relying on it screenwriter/director Scott Cooper wastes other chances to create a more thoughtful and realistic film.
Nearly every other relationship Blake has presents more interesting storylines than this May-December love affair. Blake's rift with Tommy (Colin Farrell), his young protégé who has risen to superstardom, clearly contributes to his stagnation. He resents the younger man's success even as he feels a measure of pride in him. And it is almost a crime against acting that so few scenes feature Robert Duvall mixing it up with Bridges as Blake's best friend Wayne.
Most men in Bad Blake's situation-hopelessly addicted, alienated from nearly everyone-don't have the neat solution of a new woman to initiate change. Some day it would be nice to see a story that explores the more genuine catalysts that lead a soul-sick person to change.