> Interview: Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges is a little bit country, but a little bit rock 'n' roll when it comes to self-esteem in low-key drama Crazy Heart. His only lift comes from playing the guitar and singing those blues away in front of shrinking crowds who can barely remember a time when he was 'someone'. When we meet him - stumbling out of a car, pouring his urine from a bottle - he is still going by the stage name 'Bad Blake', but at 57-years-old, that seems more tragic than cool. Still, it's the brilliance of Bridges that means he can be sad and pathetic, and charismatic and heroic all at the same time.
He slopes into frame, a little sheepish. Apparently, he's only famous among barmen; so much so that when he turns up for a gig at a bowling alley, he is refused a tab on the company dollar. It's not all bad news though. The admiring boss graciously tells Blake that he's very welcome to do all the bowling he likes, 'for free'. Fans of The Big Lebowski (in which Bridges bowled up a storm) will surely appreciate this moment, but so will anyone with a taste for the bittersweet. That's the kind of film this is; smoothing over the rough edges of life with a balm of mellow humour, and an acknowledgement that, perhaps, life shouldn't be taken so seriously.
With a string of broken marriages behind him and a son he never sees, Blake could certainly not be accused of being too serious. But that begins to change when he meets journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She's tough because she's had to be - because of guys like Blake - but his craggy, country charm is also tough to resist. What makes their romance joyful to watch (apart from a glowing rapport between the leads) is the delicate touch of writer-director Scott Cooper. There is no excess of soft-focus close-ups and swelling music, just moments of pregnant silence as they both consider saying those words that would make them vulnerable again.
Of course there is plenty of music as well, but mostly onstage where Bridges looks completely at home, strumming the guitar and soulfully crooning songs especially penned for him by T-Bone Burnett. Colin Farrell is much less convincing as Blake's A-list protégé who, as a favour to the old man, asks him to warm-up the crowd at one of his sell-out concerts. Like a lot of country music, this part is blatantly contrived to draw our sympathy; to give a sense of what Blake might have been. There's also Blake's relationship with Jean's little boy, which feels natural and endearing for the most part, but Cooper (adapting Thomas Cobb's novel) doesn't go as far as he might to show the danger Blake presents to the child when drunk.
After a much too easy lesson in parental responsibility, Blake considers re-establishing contact with his own son. Thankfully, this doesn't become a shortcut to redemption. The focus turns back to the music and the creative process which is fuelled by all of the 'bad' in Blake's life. The sum value of bitter experience is finally made plain in a romantic, though not overly sentimental ending. If his life were only written in song, Blake might appear to be a walking, country music cliché, but Bridges, typically, comes at the role from an offbeat angle. He underplays the drunkenness, undercuts the tantrums with humility, and shies away in the love scenes. He is always reluctant to claim the spotlight and, in the end, that's what makes him so darned riveting to watch. A note-perfect performance.
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