Last week there were a few nice surprises when the Oscar nominations were announced. The media mainly focused on the surprise Best Picture nomination of “The Blind Side,” but there was another surprise in the best supporting actress category: Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart.” To no one’s surprise, Jeff Bridges earned a best actor nomination for the same film, and hopefully this award attention will help to spread “Crazy Heart” to a wider audience because this is one great film that should not be ignored.
In writing about “Crazy Heart,” many critics have focused on Jeff Bridges’ grand performance. Bridges does give a great performance and many expect him to win the gold. Mr. Bridges portrays Bad Blake, a struggling country singer who survives off of what his name used to mean. Blake lives off the money he earns from small shows at bowling alleys and bars after once serving as a mentor to another artist who has made it big.
Near the beginning of the film, Blake is interviewed by an aspiring journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal), anxious to learn more about the singer. The film develops from there as Blake, the loner, begins a relationship with the younger woman. As that relationship builds, he’s given a chance to change his life and decide what kind of person he wants to be. Does he want to continue to hold a grudge against his fellow singer who succeeded and left him in the past? Or does he want to continue moving along playing show after show without finding something or someone worth settling down for?
Though he’s never won, Mr. Bridges has already been nominated for an Oscar four times. Although I haven’t seen all of his past nominated films, I have seen the last one: “The Contender,” a great film where Bridges plays a buttoned-up President of the United States looking for a person to nominate as vice president. It’s a testament to Bridges’ acting abilities that in “The Contender” he plays a strong man with high ideals and in “Crazy Heart” he’s a suffering man with no idea where his life may be headed. He excels in both.
In addition to Bridges, there’s a fine performance by Ms. Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal, who has appeared as overconfident in some of her earlier movies, has a quieter role here. She shows believable vulnerability as a single mother who does not want to have her heart broken by a washed-up country singer. Also, in a very small role, Robert Duvall delivers a strong performance as a friend of Bad Blake’s.
In addition to the strong performances, I really enjoyed the story. One of the best things about the plot is that the movie has an ability to surprise by not going in the direction viewers might think. For instance, at one point we learn something about Blake’s family life and the audience expects that revelation to force the movie to bring us to a scene of reconciliation. Instead of that cliche, we get a quiet more realistic scene between Blake and the Duvall character on a boat that resolves the situation in a subtle but poignant way.
That short scene is actually one of the best in the film.
“Crazy Heart” is a great film with a lot of strong attributes. In addition to the performances and surprises, the music is fantastic. There’s a lot to love about this movie and it’s worthy of Academy recognition.