As far as I'm concerned, Crazy Heart is all about the music. The music in this film, performed by The Dude himself Jeff Bridges, is outstanding. "Bad" Blake's fictional hits are all memorable tracks, and you can easily believe that this guy is a once-superstar. You need to be able to buy that Blake was once a huge country star in order to get into the story, and the music and Bridges sell it.
The story, however, remains second to the music. It is a tale of a down-and-out singer named "Bad" Blake who hasn't written any new material in years. His career is waning, and he seeks solace in the bottle as he drives from gig to gig. He's an alcoholic, a once brilliant but now pathetic figure. The gigs are nothing to write home about, the bars are small but the crowds still love him and the hits. They are still there for him, whether he deserves them or not. Despite the drinking, the gigs are (mostly) still brilliant. (One thing I enjoyed was that "Bad" performs with a different house band in every town, and therefore the concerts all have a different flavour.)
His manager is struggling to keep "Bad"'s career going, and wants him to write new songs. Blake insists there's nothing wrong with the old songs. Along the way he meets Jean, who interviews him for an article she's planning to write. Despite the drinking, she falls for Blake, or at least the icon that he once was. Most importantly, Blake seems to really get along with her young son, Buddy, and seems to be surprisingly great with kids. The love affair blooms, and we learn that "Bad" has a son of his own.
"Bad" Blake's big break is an opening slot for Tommy Sweet (Collin Ferrel), now a huge country star but once a young sideman to Blake himself. Can "Bad" swallow his ego and take the chance to renew his career, or will his drinking eventually kill him? When Tommy and "Bad" duet together, you truly believe that there was some sort of musical history here that you've just never been aware of before. There is some great musical magic in Crazy Heart.
Unfortunately I felt that the story stalled a bit when "Bad" wasn't on stage. I felt that each song was the centerpiece to each sequence of the film. Even the romance with Jean (Maggie Gyllenhal) didn't really spark the way the songs do. Not until a moment of crisis involving "Bad", Buddy and Jean does the story ever rival the music, and by then we're already into Act 3. The theme of redeption drives this film, and when glimmers of the old "Bad" shine through, the movie shines as well.
I enjoyed Crazy Heart, but people who aren't into the musical side of it will enjoy it less. The thing about Crazy Heart is that you know this story is not really fiction. You know a hundred singers in a hundred towns have had this story unfold in their lives. Country stars big and small have come back from the brink of death only to find success bigger than ever before. From that point of view, the musically inclined will really dig this film. That goes double for Jeff Bridges fans.
DVD special feaures are disappointingly sparse. All there is are some inconsequential deleted scenes. No documentaries, no musical featurettes, no audio commentaries. I find that to be a shame as I'd love to know more about Bridges' musical performances.
Pick up Crazy Heart if you're a fan of old fashioned country music the way they used to make it -- hard living, hard loving, from the heart and pure. Pick up Crazy Heart if you're a fan of The Dude. 4 stars.