You don't have to look very far to find country songs about broken hearts, blown chances, lost dreams, lonesome highways, and whiskey. You'll find all those essential ingredients in Crazy Heart, a country song transferred to celluloid, with a few movie cliches tossed into the mix. Crazy Heart, written and directed by Scott Cooper, and adapted from Thomas Cobb's novel, is the tale of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a broke-down, hard-drinkin', hard-livin' country music singer whose best days are already pretty far behind him, and getting farther. Bad's hit a long patch of bad road, playing two-bit bars and bowling alleys on a kind of last gasp tour of the American Southwest. He's got a string of broken marriages, he's drinks too much, smokes too much, and he's got the lungs and beer gut to show for his efforts. But when he's good, he's very good -- a singer with a voice like a country road, and a talent for songcraft. Trouble is, he's bad more often than he's good.
Bad's a man in free fall, until an unexpected meeting prompts him to put on the brakes. He meets an aspiring journalist named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mom with a cute four year old son. Jean wants an interview with the legendary Bad. He pours on the charm, such as it is. Jean's earthy and earnest and swears she knows better than to fall for another loser. In the country music dictionary, Bad's pretty much the definition of a loser. Jean falls for him anyway, and the implausibility of the romance -- they're decades apart in age, he's a dissolute, self-destructive alcoholic rogue who can barely be trusted with a lit cigarette let alone a child -- runs the movie right off the road.
The romantic plot of Crazy Heart just doesn't work -- it's implausible on multiple levels, and like a few other plot developments, glib and too easy -- but the movie's other elements do work. Plot aside, the screenplay features believable dialogue and there are strong performances and great music. Bridges is really terrific as Bad, giving a worn-in, lived-in performance that's all sweat, flab and heart. Bridges does his own singing too, as does Colin Farrell, who plays Tommy Sweet, a one-time Bad Blake protege whose star has risen as Bad's has fallen. They've got some mighty fine songs to croon, songs of loss and longing and better days written by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton.
Crazy Heart is a sad, moving portrait of a world weary, self-pitying man sliding into self-inflicted oblivion with a howl, but not really putting up much of a fight. He's not so far gone, though, that he doesn't recognize a last chance when he sees it.