| One of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood is finally getting the recognition he deserves. After winning awards for best actor last weekend at the Critics Choice and Golden Globes, four-time Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges (“The Contender,” “Starman,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and “The Last Picture Show”) is the odds-on favorite to finally take home the golden statuette.
In “Crazy Heart,” Bridges stars as Bad Blake, a grizzled, bourbon-guzzling, country music singer. This legendary songwriting guitarist with a tenor voice is the spitting image of Kris Kristofferson. At age 57, he drinks and smokes too much and needs to lose 25 pounds. He travels around the Southwest in Old Betsy, a battered 1978 Suburban Silverado, and plays one-night gigs in bowling alleys, piano bars and honky-tonk saloons with pickup bands and local piano players.
He has a blue-collar work ethic. “I play drunk, sick, divorced and on the run. I never missed a show in my life,” says Bad. His moniker is on the back of his guitar strap so the group playing behind him will never forget the once-famous star attraction warbling into the microphone.
Bad has been unlucky in love, having married and divorced four times. Things appear to change for the better when he is interviewed by Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal from “The Dark Knight” and “Secretary”), an attractive single mother who has a poor track record with men. They share a love of music and the hard knocks of life. They have a romantic fling. Bad spends time with Jean and her cute-as-a-button, 4-year-old toddler, Buddy (Jack Nation), even making them his world-famous biscuits.
This character portrait of a tarnished man full of regrets struggling down the road of redemption is based on the 1987 novel by Thomas Cobb. It marks the astounding filmmaking debut of writer-director Scott Cooper, a former child actor. Cooper acknowledges that Bad’s dramatic character arc mirrors the life of Merle Haggard. He also indicates that Bad could have been the fifth Highwayman, joining Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kristofferson.
Bridges is phenomenal in the signature role, much like last year’s attention-grabbing performance by Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.” Bridges has become an audience favorite with a casual, carefree attitude, a sly charm and a perpetual grin. The son of TV star Lloyd Bridges (“Sea Hunt”) is usually cast as the unpredictable rascal. Bad is a perfect complement to Bill Django (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”), Charles Howard (“Seabiscuit”), The Dude (“The Big Lebowski”), Jack Baker (“The Fabulous Baker Boys”), Preston Tucker (“Tucker: The Man and his Dream” ) and Starman (“Starman”).
Besides the mesmerizingly marvelous lead turn, another strength of this movie is the terrific guitar-heavy country music score by the late Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett (“Walk the Line,” “Cold Mountain” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”). These songs are so good you will be tempted to buy the CD soundtrack so you can listen to them repeatedly. The movie’s theme song, “The Weary Kind” (lyrics by Ryan Bingham), received the top prize for best song in a motion picture last weekend at the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards. It should easily win the Oscar.
The movie is dedicated to the memory of Bruton, who died last May of throat cancer at boyhood friend Burnett’s home. His songs have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffet, Jennings and Nelson.
The movie was shot primarily in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M. The supporting cast includes Colin Farrell (“Minority Report”) and Robert Duvall (“Tender Mercies”). Now playing at the Glenwood Arts, AMC Studio 30 and the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"