Jeff Bridges, for all his glorious achievements, still hasn’t been celebrated enough. A technical actor (remember Starman?) who manages to make every gesture a perfect one, he’s been paired with difficult material over a meandering career and always succeeded. So if this better-than-average country-singer tale does the trick come Oscar time, here’s someone who won’t complain. “Bad” Blake, much like Bridges’s immortal Dude, is belly-acting: gutsy and, well, big-gutted. The number of times Blake is seen emerging from a pickup truck with his belt unfastened is almost a running joke. Rambling through a series of Texas bars and vomiting behind them, Blake is haunted by a musical protg who’s become a huge star (Farrell). His own glory days are long behind him.
Crazy Heart pairs this fascinating private strummer with a curious journalist (Gyllenhaal), who soon shares with him a bed and the affections of her daddyless young son. For the movie’s first hour, you perk up at the vibrations of sympathetic emotions, pitched at a quiet frequency not heard since Tender Mercies. (The appearance of Robert Duvall is a bonus.) Upsettingly, though, someone’s decided that such intimate moments are not enough for a night of entertainment, so a manufactured kid-in-jeopardy climax and Blake’s rehab stint blow the mood. Until then, this is great American acting.—Joshua Rothkopf
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