Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a country singer who has seen better days. He pulls up outside his latest gig venue, which turns out to be a bowling alley, not exactly a welcome sight for a performer who used to command substantial audiences at the larger concerts. He is resigned to his lot, and wanders in to meet the manager, who tells him that they have a room and food for him but he's not allowed a bar tab and will have to pay for that himself. Therein lies a problem: Blake is an alcoholic, and cannot admit this though it is obvious to all who know him or even spend an hour in his company. Can he overcome it?
When Jeff Bridges won his Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart, it was as if all the fans of this cult star were finally given their due for following him for so long in a selection of films which down the years may not have attracted huge audiences, but had won him acclaim and dedication among movie buffs of all ages. They knew just how good an actor he could be, and didn't mind the way that some of his finest roles had been neglected over a career that may have made him a name to be reckoned with, but hadn't always offered him the success that should have come with the respect he had rightly earned.
So when it was this film, again by no means a blockbuster, which got him the gong, it could have been seen as one of those career Oscars that veteran stars often win. Perhaps it was, but to see one of the less showy performances prevail was something that warmed the cockles of many a fan's heart, crazy or otherwise, as Bridges didn't indulge in grandstanding scenes of big emotions or going over the top in one crucial sequence, but instead preferred to inhabit this character in a far more subtle style. If there was one star who it could be claimed had lost himself in his role, then it was here as he did his own singing (sounding perfectly authentic in the process) and was not afraid to turn audiences off.
How so? Because all the way through, as we are not watching this character in his heyday we have to take it as read he was as brilliant as his aficionados say he was. With an arsenal of rather good country songs for Blake to sing, which he has written himself some time before we caught up with him, we get an inkling of the talent that has not quite abandoned him even if he had given up on it many years ago. His manager phones him every day with a new gig to attend, but is more concerned that he start writing again, and even recording, because he, like quite a few others, still believes in him. Another who does so is Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother and reporter who arranges an interview with him.
Jean is a writer for the local paper, so has not hit the big time, but there's an understanding reached between her and Blake that sees a romance develop as he takes this new relationship as a fresh chance to make up for past mistakes and abandoning of the grown-up son he never really knew as he dotes over Jean's own four-year-old. But he cannot escape the flaws in his personality, and after a while you begin to realise this is not so much a story about country music, although it plays a part, or a May to December romance, but it is more about alcoholism. Blake must overcome the bottle if he wants to clean up and fulfill the hopes of those around him, and if he fails in the short term, there's an optimism here that he will get through this dark period because it will fuel his creativity. With supporting roles for Colin Farrell as the protege who wants Blake to write for him and an all-too appropriate Robert Duvall (who won his Oscar for the similar Tender Mercies) as the best friend, Crazy Heart is modest but well made, a character piece of the sort Bridges shone in. Music by Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett.