Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed out country musician who spends his time touring from bar to bar to try and make a living. His records are getting cancelled by the label, and any new material is thwarted in the face of alcoholism and a bitterness that comes from a life gone badly wrong. All the while, Tommy Sweet, a former collaborator, is selling records by the truckload and embarking on a stadium tour.
There are no prizes for guessing the overarching plot, but this is a character piece. The magic is in the performances by its three pillars: Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake himself; Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean Craddock, the journalist he finds himself involved with, and the mid-west itself, which is captured as it really is, in impressive naturalistic detail.
Bridges and Gyllenhaal are excellent. The former deserves his Academy Award; the latter was robbed. Although in many ways this is a melodrama, there is no heavy-handedness here: instead, just the right amount of comedy and pathos creates a sense of emotional realism. There are plenty of laughs, but every scene is alive, and every scene rings true. Similarly, Robert Duvall puts in a perfectly flawed performance late in the film as Bad’s friend and hometown bar owner.
The one bum note is Colin Farrell as Tommy Sweet. Whereas every other character feels real, like the actors understand their context and personalities, Farrell seems to be going through the motions. The result – particularly in contrast to Bridges and Gyllenhaal - is an uncanny valley effect, as if he’s been rendered into his scenes in post production.
Nonetheless, this almost works in the context of Tommy Sweet’s superstardom – you can trick yourself into believing he’s supposed to be an enormous fake – and ultimately it isn’t a barrier to enjoyment. Crazy Heart is an accomplished, beautiful film, packed with subtle performances and well-observed writing. Seek it out while you can.