Bad, at 57, lives on McClure’s (cheap) bourbon and endless cigarettes. He’s barely functional and barely ekes out an existence singing in seedy bars and bowling alleys. During gigs he disappears into an alleyway to throw up. He travels through the southwest in a battered truck and sleeps in miserable excuses for motels. Bad has had four bad marriages, a son he hasn’t seen in over 20 years and aging groupies for sex. Despite all his drawbacks, Bad has some talent, not only as a raspy country singer, but also as a songwriter.
There’s a hint of another excellent country music film, Tender Mercies, in which Robert Duvall had the lead. More than coincidentally, Duvall takes on a cameo role in Crazy Heart as one of Bad’s few loyal friends, trying to save him from imminent self-destruction. Another is Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a country sensation once mentored by Bad, and trying to pay him back.
In the course of his meanderings from joint to joint, Bad meets Jean Craddock, an aspiring writer. Jean is another unfortunate one, seeking to scrape by. She’s a single mom with the obligatory cute kid. There’s clear sexual tension in an interview between Bad and the much younger Jean. That leads to a predictable romance and possibilities of redemption for Bad and the much younger Jean. She sees something worthy about the boozer with the pony-tail and dissolute life style. Jean becomes believable only because of the superb performance of Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Bridges not only plays Bad Blake; he becomes Bad Blake; he actually sings the songs specially written for him. Bridges is a brilliant actor: witness The Fabulous Baker Boys or The Big Lebowski or other fine performances. As an actor who runs counter to the usual Hollywood pretty boy image, Bridges is without peer.
This is not big budget stuff. It’s beautifully photographed (some of the dark and light scenes recall Caravaggio paintings), and the music is outstanding, even if you are not a country music fan.
Yes, it’s rated R for language, sex and all that stuff.