Bad Blake (Bridges) is an ageing country singer-songwriter whose star has been fading for quite some time. To make ends meet, his agent sends him to tiny venues in nowhere towns where Bad plays with local session musicians, chainsmokes, gets drunks and sleep with groupies just like he did "back in the day". The thing is, he's now 57 and the only way out of this situation is to write some new material, something he hasn't done for years.
One day he is interviewed by Jean (Gyllenhall), a local journalist. There's a connection but given his lifestyle she is understandably wary of getting involved, especially as she's divorced and has a four-year-old son. Then a sequence of events leads Bad to start writing again and both of their lives seem set to change for the better.
Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb, Scott Cooper's adaptation is a wholly American piece. While it will probably help to be a country music fan, it's by no means essential to enjoy the film. The music certainly plays in an integral part in proceedings however, and Bridges distinguishes himelf as a vocalist, crooning gruffly or emotively as the situation requires. As his Oscar nomination suggests, his is an utterly captivating performance full of subtlety and nuance, conveying regret and conflict through twinkly-eyed humour and sadness, the first part of which some will recognise from his role as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
This is a more heavyweight role and actually has more in common with Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler, full of remorse as he is for his failings as a father. Known on stage as the Wrangler of Love, Bad is mainly wrangling with his own guilt and seeks solace and company in drink. It's easy to see what began as a social adjunct to his working life slowly turned into a habit and then an addiction, and this is one of the reasons for his troubled relationship with Jean.
Maggie Gyllenhall plays the single mother with tenderness and vulnerability but is no mere bit part, showing the very strength of character that Bad has not encountered for many a long year. There are also bright but minor roles for Colin Farrell as the new young country superstar and rival in music, and Robert Duvall as Bad's best friend at home in Houston.
Cooper uses the vistas of the southern states to great effect, showing Bad's life on the road as a beautiful if lonely place and thus adding a cinematic grandeur to what is otherwise an intimate character study. Intelligent, thoughtful and gentle, Crazy Heart is a good-natured, moving and humorous drama.
EXTRAS ★★ There are the usual three copies of the film – Blu-ray, DVD and digital. Plus there are 10 deleted scenes and alternate music cuts; an interview with Bridges, Gyllenhaal and Duval, about what brought them to the film (3 minutes); and the theatrical trailer.