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Crazy Heart is a slip of a movie, resting on the lightest of happenings. Jean Craddock, a young single mother, takes a chance on romance and inspires an ageing country-music performer known as Bad Blake to write songs again. Before this aspect of his rehabilitation is complete, unfortunately, Blake behaves irresponsibly with his muse's child; happily, the desire to make amends inspires him to become sober. His inspirations are realized — he writes good songs and he stays off the sauce. But he does not regain the girl. Nor does he re-unite with his son. This is the third inspiration to flow from Jean. When she hears that Blake has a twenty-eight year-old son whom he hasn't seen in twenty-five years, she urges him to give him a call. When he does, the man at the other end of the phone is not interested in forgiveness and reconciliation. Neither, in the end, in Jean herself. Both of these younger people decide, not at all unreasonably, that they cannot afford to be closely involved with Bad Blake.
The template from which Crazy Heart takes its shape usually yields more dramatic productions, with lower lows and grander redemptions. Bad Blake screws up, but not very badly — if the movie were about his screwing up, it would be a dud. Instead, it's about the magic of personal connection — magic because we never quite understand it. Blake's drinking problem is more a bad habit than a problematic addiction; his smoking isn't any healthier. His judgment is prone to myopia. But Blake functions well enough.
It would be wrong to say that there is a romance here. As in (500) Days of Summer, this show is all about the guy. Of course we see the girl, and of course she is very fetching, with her yearning eyes and silent companionability. The warm and tender care that Maggie Gyllenhaal's face so precociously displays is shown to us through Blake's emptied-out need. She opens up to him to the degree that he needs her to open up, and her opening up is what surprises him. Twice he tells her that she makes his motel room look like a dump when she walks into it, a curious phrase when you think about it. It's his way of registering that she makes him feel like a dump, while at the same time suggesting that he doesn't have to be a dump.
Although we see everything from Blake's point of view, we understand things that he's not quick to grasp. For example, this is going to be Jean's last fling. This is the last time that she will engage with a man who calls forth the excitement that got her pregnant. This is the last time that she will set her motherhood aside for an evening.
As if to compensate for the lack of event, the characters in Crazy Heart are all considerably more nuanced than they would be in the standard melodrama, and Scott Cooper makes the most of his gifted cast, which includes Robert Duvall, as an older guide in Blake's life and, and Paul Herman as Blake's naggingly encouraging agent. Colin Farrell turns in what might well be his most assured performance so far, playing a country star, Tommy Sweet, who still acknowledges that he learned everything that he knows from Bad Blake. In more ordinary hands, Tommy would be either an ungrateful mentee or a burned-out enabler. Instead, he persuasively goes out of his way to accommodate Blake. When he insists that he can't swing a recording deal that Blake would really like, we believe him; we understand that the money men don't want to invest in what Blake has come to. Tommy's rough-hewn angel announces that, if Blake will only write some songs, it will be a different story — and it's the story that Crazy Heart ends up telling. (March 2010)
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