On the Aisle
By Tony Macklin
At the end of every year, there’s a rampage to open movies in LA and NY to make them eligible for Oscar voting consideration.
In 2008 Mickey Rourke leaped out in “The Wrestler” in the waning days of December to get a nomination last year and be the favorite for Best Actor, but he was spilt by Sean Penn in “Milk.”
A winning actress who came out of nowhere in December was Charlize Theron in “Monster.” Her film premiered in Los Angeles on Dec. 17, 2003. She subsequently won the Best Actress Academy Award.
This year’s Rourke and Theron is Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” which premiered in Beverly Hills on Dec. 8.
Bridges has fewer enemies in Hollywood than Rourke, so he has an even better chance of walking away with the golden statuette this year.
In “Crazy Heart,” Bridges portrays Bad Blake, a grizzled, battered, alcoholic country singer living on the frayed edges of his fallow career. Blake has been relegated to gigs in small clubs and bowling alleys in front of aging fans and women who still hit on him. He’s hanging on struggling to be professional.
Blake meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a reporter and single mother, who is smart and piques his interest. [Of course, her initials are JC.] But his demons and failures make him an unlikely candidate for redemption.
Some reviewers have noticed that as Bad Blake, Bridges seems to have channeled his inner Kris Kristofferson. Bridges has said his model for Bad Blake actually was Stephen Bruton, who joined Kristofferson’s band after college, and wrote music and played guitar for more than 40 years.
Bruton, who was with Bridges daily while making the film, is credited with helping T-Bone Burnett on the original music in “Crazy Heart.” Bruton lived just long enough to finish his work on the film.
Two weeks after they finished their work on the film, the 60-year old Bruton died of throat cancer at the home of Burnett. So Bridge’s performance has an elegiac quality.
Bridges has never won an Academy Award, but he has been nominated four times, three times as Supporting Actor: “The Last Picture Show,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and “The Contender.” He was nominated as Best Actor for his performance in “Starman.” This year he has his best chance for “Crazy Heart.” He nails the role.
One of his best former performances was in another movie about musicians, “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” a smoky torch song about wayward lounge singers, co-starring his brother Beau and Michelle Pfeiffer. Beau was neat and Jeff was smooth blend. Now in “Crazy Heart,” Jeff is aged rotgut.
Another memorable performance is Bridges as a mediocre boxer in John Huston’s “Fat City.” Kris Kristofferson sang “Help Me Make It Through the Night” on the soundtrack.
But Bridges’ most popular role was as “The Dude” in the Coen Brothers’ film “The Big Lebowski.” That has become his signature role. “Crazy Heart” should add another memorable loop to his signature. Lots of folks are rooting for Bridges.
Colin Farrell, who deftly plays country singer Tommy Sweet in “Crazy Heart,” had his name only listed with “rest of the cast,” so that he wouldn’t take any of the attention away from Bridges. That’s quite a compliment.
Farrell, who himself sang Tommy Sweet’s songs, plays a younger singer who once appeared with Blake, but has become a megastar on his own. Robert Duvall likably plays an old friend of Blake. Gyllenhaal bring credibility to the part of the younger woman.
“Crazy Heart” was written (adapting a novel by Thomas Cobb) and directed by first-timer Scott Cooper, and he gives his gifted cast room to flourish.
A movie about an old reprobate and redemption only has a few ways to end. He may prevail, he may fail, or he may endure. Some viewers have been cool to the conclusion of “Crazy Heart,” but it’s valid and symbolic.
One thing for sure: Jeff Bridges prevails!
Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film, in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.