"Breaking Bad" (I Used to Be Somebody, Now I'm Somebody Else)
At the end of each filmic year, theaters are filled to their google-plexes with all sorts of movies. Because of the Holidays, there's plenty of people wandering around major areas of assembly with the occasional two hours to kill, so Christmas is as profitable a time to the studios as Summer. Every conglomerate pushes and shoves to squeeze in one more blockbusting crowd-pleaser to blacken the year-end red ink.
Then there are the films that have been positioned to impress the critics' societies and are launched into Los Angeles and New York, so they can be eligible for awards, most pointedly The Oscars. And in that sub-category, there are the waifs—the ones that open in those markets and take a little longer to reach Biloxi, because, frankly, the studios would rather launch heavier weights during the Holiday Crunch, then release the films they feel will have only a niche market, that might have a respectable run in the projection booth, before reaching a more sizable audience in the rental market. The reason they're there is for the Awards, and usually for an acting honor to someone who does consummately good work, but has never played a "disease" role, or worn heavy make-up to win.
I'm talking about films like, recently, "Venus" with Peter O'Toole, "Being Julia" with Annette Bening, even last year's "The Wrestler" with Mickey Rourke. Earnest films with Oscar "buzz" for their stars, the kind that were mocked by Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration."
This year's it's "Crazy Heart."
The story of an alcoholic country singer-songwriter, on a Southwest tour of what they call (in the biz) "toilets," merely reflects the downward spiral "Bad" Blake (Jeff Bridges) has put himself into. Perpetually boozed up, touring in the same old station wagon (old "Bessie") he used in the early days when he was more successful, his life is comprised of using things up and tossing them away—cigarettes, bottles of booze, ex-wives (five of them, maybe four, he can't seem to remember), he still has the talent—his reporter-inquisitor, a single mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) from a Santa Fe newspaper that he begins a relationship with, says he can still toss off a song instantaneously that most people would struggle years to write—hasn't completely left him. But, that may be the last thing to go. He hasn't written a new song in years—the writing skills are there, but the inspiration has long ago moved on. It's one more thing taken for granted in a career that brought easy success that couldn't be maintained in the living of it.
The fur-bellied snark in me would say I'd been to this rodeo before in a fine film two decades back called "Tender Mercies," which spotlighted Robert Duvall (and in a mirror reflection, he has a small role in, and executive produced, this feature), and had more of a spiritual nature to it. There's no God in "Crazy Heart" (scripted and directed low key by Scott Cooper), as reality and responsibility is tough enough to fathom for Bad.
But it's a good movie for Jeff Bridges, who is always so good—his small part in "The Men Who Stare at Goats" was a comedic and dramatic gem, he being the only actor in it to quietly evoke deep sympathy, let alone belief—that he's always in danger of being taken for granted in the periphery of other folks' vehicles. This time, though, the spot-light's on him, and he's buttressed by a solid cast of actors lending their own mega-wattage to the brightness surrounding him. That includes Colin Farrell, buried deep in the credits to not attract attention, in a terrific performance that reflects kindly on his "mentor." Another nice thing is that T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton have composed clever, old-style country songs in the keys of both Farrell and Bridges, so they never seem less than authentic on-stage.
That extends to the story, too, which resists the epiphany lesser hands might have constructed. But like an old country song, the emphasis is on transitioning, rather than succeeding, maintaining rather than overcoming, in being rather than having dreams come true. Sometimes the triumph is in recognizing what one's taken for granted for so long.
Hope he gets that Oscar.*
"Crazy Heart" is a Rental.
* I say that with some caution because I know the "entertainment press" won't be able to resist saying that Bridges won for a "Bad" or "Crazy" performance.