Jeff Bridges may be the most incapable actor I’ve ever seen. By that, I mean that I have never seen him act. He always seems to simplybe his role. Since I am not always a fan of the histrionics many actors get praised for, especially these days it seems, that puts Bridges high up on my list of the greatest actors in movie history. Although I must admit that I am one of those people who under appreciates him since other than The Dude, I don’t have a particularly brilliant performance of his that I continue to revisit over the years. But he is never false, never reaches for emotions, and never acts; and that’s exactly what was needed for the role of Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, the wonderful little movie starring Bridges and Maggie Gylenhaal in a mash up of movie clichés: the May-December romance, the over-the-hill/boozed up country singer, and the good woman (often with a small child) redeeming a broken man.
Bad Blake used to be a country music star, back when “real country” was what people wanted to hear. The person everyone wants to hear now is Bad’s old protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, in a welcome surprise), whom Bad does begrudgingly admit is “real country”. Surprisingly, given the ever-present cliché in the movie, Tommy genuinely appreciates Bad showing him the ropes and putting him on the road to where he is today. He pays tribute to “the man whose autograph you should be asking for”, but Bad holds resentment after Tommy canceled a tour they had scheduled many years ago, even though it was so Tommy could work on his marriage. Tommy came back more popular than ever, and Bad faded his way into driving all over the country for gigs in bowling alleys and tiny bars with local pick-up bands. While in Santa Fe, Bad is interviewed by Jean (Gyllenhaal) a local music writer. Bad is taken by her in a way we can tell he hasn’t been taken by a woman in a while. The way the two actors play these scenes is a master class in real moments, delicately handled by first time writer/director Scott Cooper. “What do you want to talk about?” she asks, after Bad says he doesn’t want to talk about his relationship with Tommy, “I want to talk about how bad you make this room look.” It’s a great line, and Bridges delivers it as a great songwriter would.
Gyllenhaal is radiant in her role, her huge beautiful eyes showing so much that goes unsaid. That she and Bridges were able to make this May-December romance work so believably onscreen is no small feat. We never doubt or question why she’s with him or him with her. Robert Duvall shows up in a small supporting turn as one of Bad’s oldest friends, showing that Cooper wasn’t trying to hide from the inevitable comparisons this movie would receive to Duvall’s classic Oscar-winning boozy country singer movie, Tender Mercies. Colin Farrell continues to grow on my list of favorite current actors, showing that he doesn’t consider himself too big a star to take a small role in a small movie if it means he’ll get to do good work in it. He looks the part of a modern music star, and he and Bridges have a terrific father/son, mentor/protégé kind of chemistry throughout his few scenes.
Bridges has won just about every Best Actor award imaginable this year, likely on his way to his first Oscar, and he is deserving of every one of them. This just might be his greatest work, and with Bridges you really know that’s saying something. He (and apparently Farrell) does his own singing, and his voice lends a lived-in authenticity to his role. His alcoholism is apparent from the first couple of scenes in the movie, and I never doubted when Bad was drunk, hungover, sober, or anything else. It’s a role with a lot to play for an actor, and typically, Bridges underplays. When admitting that alcohol has cost him a lot of things over the years, Bridges doesn’t give us a big break down and cry “Oscar moment” scene, he just gives us the simplicity of a man realizing how much he has wasted over his 57 years due to his addiction. It’s a terrifically brilliant performance, one that should be showered with the awards it’s getting.