Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Crazy Heart: The Invisible Man Emerges

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Crazy Heart: The Invisible Man Emerges

by Tony Dayoub

With Jeff Bridges a seeming lock for Best Actor in this year's Oscar races, there come the inevitable disclaimers, "Yeah, he deserves one, but this isn't necessarily the performance for which he should be getting it." True that in the past, Oscar has been bestowed on notable actors in second-rate roles as compensation for being overlooked in other more important performances. Most famously, Al Pacino got one for Scent of a Woman (1992) despite three instances (okay, maybe two) in which he could and should have received one for his captivating minimalist performance as Michael Corleone in The Godfather series, forever justifying his irritating inclination to play it big. Indeed, Denzel Washington was another actor who received one of these Oscars for Training Day (2001) when he really deserved it for Malcolm X in the year that Pacino got his award. What no one seems to be saying about Bridges' performance as country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart is that in this case, the honor may actually be deserved.

Part of the reason, no doubt, is the "been there, done that" issue that arises when one looks at Crazy Heart and the debt it owes to its predecessor, Tender Mercies (1983). So greatly do the two films stories of aging alcoholic country singers dovetail, it was necessary to cast the latter's Robert Duvall (who won an Oscar for that, concidentally) and throw him a producer credit just to acknowledge the inevitable comparisons between both films.

This is not to diminish the film's warmth and genuine relish in allowing one to observe Blake's self-loathing so closely. Director Scott Cooper presents Blake as a functioning alcoholic who has the old leather-feel of an endearing curmudgeon rather than the off-putting antics of an obnoxious scoundrel. Bridges invites the viewer into his charming sphere of influence much the same way he does his paramour Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal). He simply turns up the defensive allure an actor must rely on the same way an alcoholic has become accustomed to doing when evading the underlying predicament of his own existence.

This easy charm is what has thus far undercut Bridges chances for recognition. If all of his vastly different performances in great movies—from Duane in The Last Picture Show to the Dude in The Big Lebowski; from Bone in Cutter's Way to Scudder in 8 Million Ways to Die; from the titular Tucker to Max Klein in Fearless—can be made to look so easy, then is it any wonder that it's taken so long for Bridges to be acknowledged? Here, finally, is a role that stands out in an otherwise average film, and perhaps by aiming low Bridges has finally achieved the measure of success he has merited all along.


MrJeffery said...

nice write up. i really enjoyed this film. surprised by how charming (and funny) it was. the music was fabulous. bridges would be deserving.

Tony Dayoub said...

Thanks for reminding me MrJeffery. I did fail to measure T-Bone Burnett's music, which was very charming.

Mike Lippert said...

Tony, although I agree with you that Crazy Heart as a whole appears to be lacking in something, I think it's maybe also more complex and subtle than you are giving it credit for. It knows a lot about addiction without ever really being about it and the whole thing sort of embodies the sort of warn down but still suriving spirit of classic country music.

My first impression of the film was that yes, the only reason to see it was because of Bridges and indeed, he is still the main one, but as I began writing my review, which will be posted on my blog in a day or two, I began to unearth a lot of small things that made me think maybe I needed to reconsider my position and that maybe it was better than I had originally thought.

Tony Dayoub said...

Mike, I didn't mean to come off as dismissive of the film as it seems. When I call it average, I simply mean it would be so were it not for Bridges' performance.

I actually felt very comfortable drenching myself in the film's atmosphere. But nothing truly happens visually or storywise that elevates it above the level of just okay. And when the story turns on a contrived plot element at the climax, I really got mad that it stopped being a simple character study, an area where it seemed strongest.

Whether you agree with me or not on the above, you have to admit it is too close to TENDER MERCIES to deserve any merit for originality, don't you think?

Mike Lippert said...

I will indeed give you these two things: the Tender Mercies comparison is a just one and of the two that is the better film seems to end on kind of this perfect note and then of course "16 months later" flashes on the screen to cue the undeed epilogue.

Some critics have compared this movie to The Wrestler which I think isn't a good one because the Wrestler was the kind of movie that was great despite Mickey Rourke and made all the better because of him. Of course that movie defined Randy the Ram as being a tragic figure, where Crazy Hearts never quite gives us enough information to know exactly how to feel. I felt sorry for Randy when the Wrestler was over and merely pondered whether Bad Blake deserves my sympathy after all at the end of Crazy Hearts. Maybe that's why I liked The Wrestler more.

Sandy said...

I wish all the best for Jeff for his oscar nominations and hope he bags the award for his wonderful performance in the film Invincible