Crazy Heart, 2009
Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhall, Colin Farrell
WARNING: CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS
It isn’t a music biopic, but Jeff Bridges looks so much like Kris Kristofferson in his role as washed-up singer songwriter Bad Blake, that you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The story is adapted from a novel by Thomas Cobb, and Bridges said it was based partly on Kristofferson who is an old friend. The writer claims it was based on his tutor and mentor Donald Barthelme. Other sources say the story takes elements of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard, perhaps add Willie Nelson as Bad Blake lives in Texas.
The base story line is that of many a Victorian Temperance Society pamphlet, the drunkard’s fall (and redemption). That’s why I’ve told the story. No one likes plot spoilers, but hey, this is about country and western. you know the plot.
Kris, sorry, Bad, is reduced from playing stadiums to honky-tonks and bowling alleys, driving himself from gig to gig through spectacular New Mexico scenery in a beaten-up old Silverado. He isn’t much good, whisky-soaked, unable to sustain a show, lurching off to puke mid-song, leaving the pick-up band to sing his songs. He hasn’t written a new one in years.
Anyway, Bad / Kris gets to be interviewed by a pert and pretty young reporter played by Maggie Gyllenhall. She is inexplicably attracted to the smell of sixty cigarettes and a bottle of whisky a day, with just a soupçon of vomit wafting from Kris. I mean Jeff. Who is Bad Blake and claims to be 57 but looks ten years older.
He gets a break from his old backing singer, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), now a country megastar with a fleet of gleaming air-conditioned tour buses (why? his band isn’t that big) and many, many trucks of equipment. Bad is invited to open a big show for Tommy who urges him to write a song for him. Bad Blake was Tommy’s musical tutor and mentor in earlier years (we’re getting back to Donald Barthelme).
So Kris, and Jane, the pert reporter fall in love and all (Did I write Kris? I meant Bad), and he is particularly taken with her four year old son, Buddy, having lost contact with his own son twenty-five years earlier (who was four at the time). Bad and Jane even get to have sex amidst the whisky and cigarettes. By this time you’re feeling sorry for both Gyllenhall and Bridges. If you’re seen chain smoking on screen, imagine having to chain smoke through multiple takes. The cast of Mad Men said they had specially-made herbal smoking mixtures, but even so, all had started smoking in real life by the end of the first series.
So back to our Temperance League pamphlet. The drunken Bad Blake loses the little boy in a bar whilst buying a strong shot of whisk(e)y. Having broken his ankle when he turned over his old truck (but strangely not having an old faithful hound to die in the wreckage), he can’t limp fast enough to find him. Happily he’s found, but she will never be able to forgive him. Exeunt girl and little boy stage left.
Being a country songwriter this is exactly the lucky break he needs. His baby’s left him and taken the kid. His old car is wrecked. His ankle hurts like hell (remember there’s no mutt in the story to die on him, but you can’t have everything). So he’s inspired to get sober, which is surprisingly and erroneously fast and painless, and finish writing the song, which is called … how did you guess? Crazy Heart.
Flash forward sixteen months (an arbitary figure, but it’s the one on screen). He’s at a Tommy Sweet concert and gets given a cheque for megabucks because it’s, like, the number one country single and all. Jane turns up to report on the show, sporting an engagement ring. So Bad gives her the cheque for the little boy and says, give it him on his 18th birthday.
The soundtrack is by T Bone Burnett (O, Brother Where Art Thou and Across the Universe) and both Bridges and Farrell (hang on, isn’t he Irish? Ah, well. C&W was always big in Ireland) convince totally as country singers. I assume they’re singing themselves. It sounds like them. All the bands that Bad has to play with turn out to be stunningly proficient without rehearsal. Bad just chucks them a CD and a songlist and they’re off. Whether this is fiction, or a tribute to the high standards of South-Western pick up bar bands, I don’t know.