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crazy-heart-jeff-bridges-robert-duvallIn “Crazy Heart” Bad Blake, played by Jeff Bridges in what will likely become his fifth Oscar nomination, is Willie Nelson if the IRS had their way with him, or Kris Kristofferson if he hadn’t written “Me and Bobby McGee.” “I used to be somebody,” he sings at one point, “but now I’m somebody else.” That someone else is a broke, drunk country music has-been whose idea of a great gig is playing a bowling alley where he isn’t even allowed to run a bar tab.

In a story that echoes “The Wrestler” “Crazy Heart” follows the tail end of the career of a man who once had everything but threw it away. Bad Blake was a big country music star whose life seems ripped from the lyrics of a hurtin’ Hank Williams song. On the road he’s so lonely he could die, so he fills his time with groupies; women who follow him back to his seedy hotel room, remembering the star he once was and not the sweaty, drunk wreck he has become. His downward spiral is slowed when he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist and single mother who becomes his anchor.

“Crazy Heart” is an average movie buoyed by a great central performance. We’ve seen stories like this before but Bridges’s performance and the film’s details make this a recommend.

First the details. As a general rule most movies about fictional musicians get the most basic thing wrong—the music. Forgettable songs have ruined many a music movie but “Crazy Heart” and composers T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton (who died of cancer before the film was released) nail an authentic country sound. The songs sound Grand Ole Opry ready and once filtered through Bridges’s weathered vocal chords could be echoes from any small town honky tonk or dive bar. It’s hurtin’ music and is spot on.

Beyond the music there are the small details that add so much to the film. There are the nice shards of dialogue like Bad’s flirty remark to Jean as they do an interview in a dingy motel room, “I want to talk about how bad you make this room look” and the accurate portrayal of small town bars and bowling alleys.

It all helps to elevate the predictable story, but none of it would matter a whit if Jeff Bridges wasn’t firmly in control. His Bad Blake is pure outlaw country, a hard drinking and cigarette smoking poet who breathes the same air as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggart. Bridges throws his vanity out the window, allowing his gut to peak out from behind his guitar and wrinkles to peer out from the sides of his aviators. More than that, however, he nails the troubled charm that made Bad a star and then brought him to his knees. It’s complex work but Bridges, with his smooth, relaxed way with a character makes it look easy. Don’t be fooled; this is the work of a master who is often underrated.

“Crazy Heart” has some major flaws but is worth a look for the performances from Bridges, Gyllenhaal (although she seems a tad young for the part) and Colin Farrell in a small un-credited part as Bad’s former protégé.

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