A couple of your NCS Co-Authors saw the movie Crazy Heart this weekend, to find out what the hubbub was all about, and we thought it was amazingly good. The story and the acting are compelling, and the music is stunning. So although it’s got nothing (much) to do with metal, we need to write about it.
In a widely (and rightly) praised performance, Jeff Bridges plays a legendary country music performer named Bad Blake who has slid far down the back side of his career. He tours the Southwest out of the back of a rusting SUV, playing bowling alleys and bars with pickup bands, suffusing himself on a daily basis with clouds of cigarette smoke and a flood of whiskey, and satisfying his meager need for companionship with the occasional, pointless one-night stand.
Broke, alcoholic, overweight, nearing 60, with four failed marriages behind him and a grown son with whom he’s had no contact in 20 years, Bad Blake has nearly succeeded in flushing his career and his life down the toilet. He’s not very likable and seems stuck on a dead-end road to oblivion that he has mapped for himself.
On the other hand, though resentments and frustrations surface, Blake doesn’t wallow in self-pity, nor do we see much of the narcissism that seems to survive in many celebrities when all legitimate reason for self-regard has long since left the house. For Blake, this is simply his life, as it has become. It is what it is, and he simply wants to get on with it.
Beyond those meager saving graces of his personality, we see something else admirable: Even when stumbling in an alcoholic haze, he can still bring it on stage — with allowances for the occasional mid-set rush into an alleyway to puke his guts out in the nearest garbage can. (more after the jump, including some music to stream . . .)
We see that once, and maybe still again, he could write compelling songs, and that even when he sings and plays his old standards for the 1000th time, he’s doing more than just going through the motions. The songs seem as fresh to him as they are to us. He sings with knowing conviction, “I used to be somebody/But now I am somebody else/Who I’ll be tomorrow is anybody’s guess/What was thought to be the right way turned out the wrong way after all . . . .”
A chance encounter with a reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her young son awaken a spark of life in Blake, and their ensuing relationship brings out a sweetness and self-reflection that we hadn’t seen before. We begin to like Blake more, though even the wholesomeness of this relationship isn’t enough to cause him to throw off the shackles of booze and hard living for very long.
All that changes with a traumatic event — but we won’t spoil the movie by telling you about that or what happens next.
We’ve seen this kind of cautionary tale before, in art and in life. Part of what makes this telling so powerful is Jeff Bridge’s performance. In a role like this, many actors and directors might have overdone it, but Bridges’ acting is understated and absolutely believable. He inhabits this character completely, warts and all. We don’t feel emotionally manipulated by the contrivances of filmmaking, but instead we are drawn in by the truth of what we see.
The other part of what makes this movie so exceptional is the music. All the original songs except one were written by T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton, and they are wonderful, both lyrically and musically. From the rockers to the ballads, they tell you almost all you need to know about Bad Blake, and they have a way of sticking to your mind like glue.
Wouldn’t you know that the one exception to the Burnett/Bruton tandem is the song that’s been nominated for an Oscar — “The Weary Kind.” That one was principally written by Ryan Bingham, a young musician from New Mexico who had landed a bit part as a member of Bad Blake’s pickup band and played the partially completed song for Burnett (who is listed as co-writer). Bingham sings the song himself as the credits roll at the end, and it’s an emotional powerhouse.
Speaking of singing, Jeff Bridges can really do it well! And Colin Farrell isn’t bad either. Yes, you read that correctly. I don’t know who first imagined that Colin Farrell would be a good choice as the younger country star and former touring partner of Bad Blake who has risen to stardom, in part through his recording of a Blake song. But like just about everything else in this movie, it was a good call.
I had country music all around me growing up, but I’ve intentionally steered clear of it for a long time. Even if you were interested, I couldn’t begin to tell you who on the current country scene is worth a shit. These days, I much prefer death metal. But I can tell you this: Those of us here at NCS sure as hell liked the music in Crazy Heart. As one of my Co-Authors said, “if all country music sounded like this, I’d actually listen to it.”
One of my favorites (among many) is “Fallin’ and Flyin'” — in part because the tune is so damned infectious, and in part because the lyrics are inspired. Here’s an excerpt:
I never meant to hurt no one
I just had to have my way
if there is such a thing as too much fun
this must be the price you pay
funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’
for a little while
funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’
for a little while
you never see it comin’ till it’s gone
it all happens for a reason
even when it’s wrong
especially when it’s wrong
And now here are Jeff Bridges and Colin Ferrell singing that song as a duet, followed by Ryan Bingham’s rendition of “The Weary Kind.” Hope you like em: