Sunday, January 31, 2010
There's a powerful symmetry at work in "Crazy Heart" that's impossible to resist. >It's a parallel between protagonist Bad Blake, a country singer whose entire life has led him to a nadir of disintegration, and star Jeff Bridges, whose exceptional film choices have put him at the height of his powers just in time to make Mr. Blake the capstone role of his career.
It's a mark of how fine a performance Bridges gives that it succeeds beautifully even though the besotted, bedeviled country singer has been an overly familiar popular culture staple (Rip Torn in "Payday," Robert Duvall in "Tender Mercies," Hank Williams and Merle Haggard in their own lives) for forever.
So my expectations were a tad inflated going in to the movie, and as is often the case under those conditions, the reality did not them. I was restless with the movie for much of it, and I thought Bridges did eminently "watchable" work and his study of the character was extremely well-observed, I did not feel compelled by it, most of the time. There were two moments, when Bridges character experienced some wrenching rejection and failure, where I felt gripped, but they came pretty far into the movie.
I spent some time on Movie Review Query Engine reading some reviews, to see if I was alone in this view, and while most critics lavished praise on Bridges, I did find this review, which pretty much speaks for me:
Crazy Heart, directed by Scott Cooper, is fine for the kind of film it is, but I can't help thinking this movie, in its release timing and the talk surrounding it about Bridges's performance being award-worthy, arrives in the same spot as last year's The Wrestler. However, The Wrestler felt truly special -- whether owing to Mickey Rourke's performance, Darren Aronofsky's direction, or the depths that both men take their main character, that movie conveyed helpless pain in a way as raw as I've ever seen. At some point in Crazy Heart, pain like that is touched upon during a key moment, the moment Blake realizes he's more of a screw-up than he's let himself believe.
The critics tend to account for this by calling Bridges' portrait "understated", or calling the performance "enigmatic" or "sly". Maybe it is that, but it's also possible to be too canny. If we don't know why we're watching, (and I mean know in our gut), it's hard to be more than sympathetic to the plight of Bridges' character. Yes, it's extremely challenging to play someone who is an alcoholic, as they live their lives in an emotional and cognitive fog, but they do feel pain, and if the actor can't give us that, we will be watching at a safe distance.
Some of the critics do have complaints about the film: they find the love affair improbable 0or inexplicable, and some of them find Maggie Gyllenhaal a bit facile, which I can agree with. But what is surprising is that so many give credit for a tour de force, when his work is more merely competent than arresting.
The reason, I believe, is that the critics, by and large, respond to the "visible" aspects of Bridges work: the unbuckled belt buckle, the cigarette case lazzi, the sunglasses worn askew, and given the originality and specificity of these things, they are prepared to overlook the ways in which Bridges falls short in supplying the vulnerability for which we look to performers to affirm and manifest.