Saturday, April 24, 2010

CRAZY HEART -- My Review

In 1983 a little film titled Tender Mercies was released starring Robert Duvall and Tess Harper. The film was about hard drinking old time country singer trying to get his life together. While not a financial success Tender Mercies was a critical and fan favorite. It garnered a best original screenplay Oscar as well as one for Robert Duvall, his only win thus far if memory serves.

They have been trying to remake that movie ever since.

The latest attempt is titled Crazy Heart a film that won huge praise for Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of Bad Blake the central character in the film. To me Crazy Heart was a tedious, schmaltzy and overly familiar movie that was so predictable that you can never sit down and just enjoy it. The sad part for me was I wanted to like this film, I went into it amped to see it. I even tried to convince myself that it was good after the first mind numbing forty five minutes. It wasn't too long before reality set it and the cliches, awkward pacing and general laziness of the movie ended my enjoyment.

From the outset of the film you're smacked across the face with the cliches. Bridges character Bad Blake is a washed up country singer who, you guessed it, has a drinking problem, doesn't take care of himself and is ornery and grouchy but, beneath it all, beats a heart of gold. Seriously, that's established in the first ten minutes of the film and yet somehow I'm supposed to be invested in a cliche character that could be from a dozen "country" movies. Blake has a crappy manager, a rough life on the road and the entire time he has to watch his protege Tommy Sweet sell millions of records and achieve riches and fame.

With those cliches set then we get the lonely single woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her cute kid that come into Bad Blake's life and become the family he never had. Oh wait, did I mention Blake has a grown son he's never seen? Anyway as soon as Blake gets deeply involved with Gyllenhaal you know that it's going to end up with him doing something stupid involving her kid while he's drunk. That fact is so certain I spent most of my time waiting for it so when it came there was zero emotional reaction. I knew Gyyllenhall's character would leave Blake over this which would drive him to clean up his act.

Enter Robert Duvall who I guess they brought in because they ripped off Tender Mercies so badly they felt compelled or guilty. Duvall is the straight talking ex-alcoholic that doesn't let Blake get away with anything and helps him get on the straight and narrow. So now we have the tough friend who won't let his buddy die, cliche number 15..check. Once Blake gets clean there's a laundry list of little scenes that you knew were coming straight up to the sappy ending. I never read the original novel by Thomas Cobb but if its like the film it's no wonder I haven't.

The pacing problems with Crazy Heart are basically that it has none. The movie doesn't flow as a story, instead it comes across as series of clunky scenes that don't really work together. Nothing is allowed to pick up steam or even work itself out. Through out the movie Blake is constantly pissed at his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Ferrell in one of the stupidest casting choices EVER) but they never really say why. There's also no resolution to the relationship either, it just falls away until the end. Whenever Gyllenhaal's character seemed about to rise above just being a plot device the movie moved away from her and put Blake back on the road.

Crazy Heart also suffers from feeling very Hollywood Country. It never ever feels authentic but more like a group of "actors" getting together to use their "craft" to tell a "real and human story". It feels pretentious, as if you could sense the scum Hollywood execs on set with brand new Johnny Cash t-shirts and new cowboy hats. Many gave Jeff Bridges credit for raising the film above it's obvious flaws but I don't see it. To me Bridges basically was The Big Lebowski as a country singer.

Crazy Heart had some nice ambitions and I could tell it was trying to relay a convincing story it just never did. The movie never gets started because it can't rise above feeling like a series of scenes instead of a comprehensive film. The lack of originality also weighs the movie down as does the often disingenuous performances by the cast. If the plot of Crazy Heart sounds good do yourself a favor and watch Tender Mercies, you'll be much happier.

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