CINEMA: The Dude Elides*


[Illustration by DAN JOHNSON]

CRAZY HEART (2009, directed by Scott Cooper, 111 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC A great country song finds strength in simplicity, you can guess the lyric’s rhymes and sing along with the melody on the very first time you hear it. Crazy Heart, a new character study showcasing Jeff Bridges as an aging musician, is true to the form: it is weary-hearted tale that rolls out plot twists that you can spot from two verses away. Bridges brings his laconic wit to the character of Bad Blake, a once-popular country performer and songwriter (somewhere between honky tonker Merle Haggard and Texas cult country writer Townes Van Zandt) who we meet as he appears to be on a tour of Midwestern bowling alley lounges. Any blows to his dignity are cushioned by free-flowing whiskey and middle-aged groupies but he’s encouraged to clean up his act once he falls for a pretty journalist named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her fatherless four year-old son.

crazy_heart.jpgAt its best Crazy Heart‘s wide-open spaces make Blake seem like a lonely last cowboy, drifting aimlessly without his herd and singing for the few people who still care.  Writer/director Scott Cooper wrote the script with Jeff Bridges in mind, realizing it was well within Bridges’ gifts to bring the fading country singer Bad Blake to life. And sure enough, the role of the worn-and-frayed honkytonker fits Bridges like a glove, but that ultimately works against the film. In this, a summation of many roles Bridges has played before (including, yes, The Big Lebowski‘s “The Dude”), he’s so comfortable in the role that he could be accused of sleepwalking through his performance.  His villainous role in Iron Man drew less attention but is a better example of Bridges’ ability to find untapped nuances in his work.  Bad Blake is a simple guy at heart, he just wants to drink and play his music and making him go sober doesn’t really supply much fun or revelation.  Oddly, it seems like Cooper is hyper-conscious about showing Blake doing anything truly unlikable, as if he’s unwilling to test his star’s deep reserve of affability.

Bridges is never less than watchable as always, Crazy Heart’s problems can be blamed on Cooper’s under-written script and its dramatic timidity. Even when Blake hits bottom, its a pretty shallow crevice, nothing that a scene in rehab can’t correct.  Sort of The Wrestler-lite, Crazy Heart has an eye for the dingy indignities of the road: the beat-up motel rooms, the way Blake uses his hand to guide the window of his Chevy Silverado as he rolls it up and pees in a milk jug to save time on pit stops. But clever details don’t make a movie, and Crazy Heart is to afraid to jolt the story from its air of cozy sentimental reverie into something darker, richer and ultimately, truer.


–verb (used with object), e?lid?ed, e?lid?ing.

1. to omit (a vowel, consonant, or syllable) in pronunciation.
2. to suppress; omit; ignore; pass over.

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