The lives of great country singers tend to be on the messy side, to put it mildly. They wear their scars proudly, brandishing hardscrabble upbringings, bouts with drugs and alcohol abuse, acrimonious divorces, family troubles, and haphazardly squandered fortunes as rites of passage and badges of authenticity. Consequently, Bad Blake, the self-destructive veteran country singer played by Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart could have been inspired by about a hundred different country icons (though physically he bears an uncanny resemblance to the supremely grizzled Kris Kristofferson). He’s a gifted singer-songwriter in the midst of a long, seemingly permanent personal and professional freefall.
Bridges plays a bloated, depressed musician whose former sideman (Colin Farrell) has rocketed to superstardom while his own fortunes sank into an alcoholic haze of grubby honky-tonks and meaningless one-night stands. Bridges’ luck improves when a journalist and single mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) takes a more-than-professional interest in him and he’s offered an opportunity to open for Farrell and write songs for his next album. Robert Duvall, who previously traversed this bittersweet terrain in Tender Mercies, produces and co-stars as one of Bridges’ best friends, a barkeep whose a cappella rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever” provides a melancholy highlight.
The world can be cruel to crusty old veterans like Bridges’ character, but the universe smiles on him here: Farrell doesn’t let his former boss’ resentment of his success keep him from lending a helping hand, Duvall is loyal and true, and Gyllenhaal and her adorable son offer him a lifeline to happiness as he staggers out of an endless funk. Bridges brings a battered, weary dignity and a suitably weathered voice to the juicy role of a survivor learning to value himself and his gifts after decades of neglect and abuse. Crazy Heart could use more rough edges, but while it’s a little too sentimental and tidy, Bridges’ humane, deeply empathetic lead performance makes it easy to root for one man’s redemption.