Based on Thomas Cobb’s 1987 novel of the same name, Crazy Heart tells the story of of a down-and-out country sing/songwriter known to both his fans, and his friends, as Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski); a once successful musician who’s now reduced to traveling hundreds of miles a day in order to play his years old hit songs in small town bars and bowling alleys.
Bad’s constantly looking for his return to the big time, and is always being told by his manager that he needs to write some new material in order to get there, but as he’s growing older, and forced to play in these dead-end locations just to make a living, he has become emotionally numb, and doesn’t have the heart or the will to write anything new, preferring to sit back and hope that one day things will just work out for him.
This attitude has lead to him becoming increasingly miserable, and becoming a fully-blown (but not always fully functional) alcoholic who resents the fact that he has fallen from grace, and especially resents the fact that a young singer he once mentored; an extremely popular and successful country star by the name of Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, Miami Vice); has become a bigger, and more widely known, success than he ever was, and is now refusing to make a collaborative album with Bad; the one thing that he believes will restore his waining career.
However when Bad enters the venues for one of his small town shows, he agrees to be interviewed by a young journalist named Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight), and soon finds himself falling in love with her, and becoming extremely attached to her four-year-old son Buddy (Jack Nation); a relationship that makes him happy for the first time in a long time, and even sees him willing to travel several hundreds of miles to see them for a short while, anytime he has a couple of days in between appearances.
Jean also falls for Bad very soon after they meet, and allows him into her home, and into her sons life (something that she is generally quite reserved about), but is still weary about where the relationship might end up; as she’s fully aware of Bad’s numerous failed marriages, and heavily disapproves of his drinking, and the effect that seeing it may have on Buddy; and knows that he could be dangerous for her and her son, but can’t help but stick by him.
And while his new relationship is budding, Bad gets an opportunity that may be his ticket back into the limelight; a chance to perform in front of 12 thousand people, by opening a show for his ex-prodigy, Tommy Sweet; a gig that he is extremely reluctant to accept (as it means admitting that Tommy is more successful than him), but does so after realizing that it may be his one and only shot at redemption.
And that’s the basic premise of Crazy Heart; following Bad Blake through the tough times his spends on the road, scraping living off his former glory, his new relationship, his battle with alcoholism, and his attempt at reclaiming the joys, and the financial highs, that his career as a county singer once provided him.
It’s a hard one to describe, as it has no main overarching plot; no chase the bad guys and retrieve the stolen money, no underdog fighting against insurmountable odds (we know that Blake is good from the start, he just has to pull it together to score big), and no murderer from which to escape; it’s a pretty realistic tale, that’s basically just a random series of events in a country singer’s life, but is strangely mesmerizing, and utterly captivating, at the same time, as Jeff Bridges performance (for which he won the Academy Award, other wise known as an Oscar, for Best Actor) is totally flawless; he’s warm yet distant, has clear talent, but appears broken, run-down, and fed up with life, but still continues to play, and hopes that the good times will roll again.
It’s a role that Bridges plays perfectly, and not only does he act the part, brilliantly in every way possible (it’s even him singing for real when Blake performs on screen, and it’s also really Colin Farrell, and The Godfather’s Robert Duvall, that can be heard on the soundtrack), but looks the part too; as he’s been given a thorough ‘country’ makeover, and looks a fair bit like Kris Kristofferson; the man who was a bit of a country legend, long before he ever appeared as Whistler in the Blade trilogy, and the same man who Bad Blake is partly based on (he’s also based on country legends Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard).
The supporting cast also fare well; as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Jean is a suitable match for Bad Blake, in not only looks, but age, and attitude, and really seems to hold her own (never becoming overshadowed by Bridges strong on-screen presence), and even earned an Oscar nomination for her role, Colin Farrell also has the look perfected, and is always believable as a popular young star who’s taking the music world by storm (as much by his looks and personality as anything; as he isn’t the best singer ever), and Robert Duvall is as good as ever as one of Blake’s nearest and dearest friends (despite his fairly important role being a rather small one, similar to his part in The Road).
As you might expect from a film in which music plays such a vital role, the soundtrack to Crazy Heart is excellent; with Bridges, Farrell and co. performing some truly catchy tunes (to a very high standard) that will undoubtedly be playing over and over in listeners heads days after seeing the movie; and managed to earn the film a Golden Globe, and yet another Oscar win, for Best Original Song.
So for anyone who likes their dramas to be played out realistically, rather than having over the top plot lines that could only really take place in a fantasy life, Crazy Heart is the way to go; the actors all perform their roles in such a naturalistic manner that they are always believable, Bridges is fantastic in every scene, the story is extremely real and heartfelt, and you don’t even have to like country music to appreciate the magic of the movie; it’s pure gold, and a film that is unusually captivating (even though it shouldn’t be, because there’s not always that much going on), and will have almost every viewer hooked; not one for the kids, but a real must for anyone who can appreciate a powerful, character-driven, story.
Just like the movie itself, the 1080p transfer awarded to Crazy Heart is of a surprisingly higher quality than one would expect, especially from an independent picture such as this; the contrast is heightened slightly (but always remains consistent), but does a good job of representing the bold and vibrant colours that the film exhibits, and despite having a minimal amount of crush visible during some of the night sequences, the black levels are generally very solid, are provide a decent level of depth, with some good shadow delineation.
There is a faint amount of grain evident throughout the feature, which is never overly heavy, and provides it with an acceptable film-like look, and never takes anything away from the adequately crisp level of fine detail that helps to fully realizes various textures, and provide impressive close-ups, that are further helped by the warm looking, natural, skintones that only occasionally come-across as being a little too orange.
Overall a solid effort that will more than please the films fans, as the general video quality seen here is much higher than that of many other independent movies; fine detail is more than apt, the colour palette and contrast levels are both strong and well suited, and while there may be a couple of minor issues with the print (including the evidence of slight crushing, and overly warm skintones), there are no signs of edge enhancement, banding, or noise reduction present whatsoever; meaning that the blu-ray edition of Crazy heart has been given a very solid transfer that is perfectly suitable for the film, and stands up well against many other modern Blu-rays with higher production values.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound-mix provided on the disc, is also suitably apt for recreating all of the film’s sounds; as while there’s barely any real usage of the rear channels (some of the musical numbers do occasionally bleed round into the rear speakers, and what little ambient noise there is can often be too quiet to hear properly), the dialogue is always well placed and perfectly intelligible, and the films musical numbers sound great (they’re leveled a little higher than the rest of the mix in order to give them a slight boost, but every instrument comes across crisply clear and accurate, and the mix has just the right amount of bass to be foot-stompingly effective).
Dynamic range is good, and the mix stays perfectly clear and consistent throughout; and despite the slight level increase during the music performances it’s just enough to boost the songs, but never so high that it requires volume adjustment; and while this mix might not amaze too many listeners (the lack of ambience, when there are so many opportunities for it, mean the soundtrack isn’t as enveloping as it could be), there’s hardly anything that’s actually wrong with it; the music sounds just about as good as it possibly could; it’s just not a stunning mix in anyway.
One thing that does let this Blu-ray down however, is the special features, or lack thereof; there is a short collection of deleted scenes included (which actually contain a couple of different musical cuts, and some pretty lengthy, worthwhile, and very emotional, scenes that are definitely worth a look), the theatrical trailer (which isn’t too much of a bonus for someone who has already rented/purchased the film itself), and a very brief promotional interview in which Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Robert Duvall, talk about what attracted them to Crazy Heart, and what the project meant to them.
Despite the interview’s promotional nature, it is still interesting, and the deleted scenes are a very nice and worthwhile inclusion, but there’s so many missing features that could have been interesting; such as a making of, a feaurette about the locations used, teaching the actors to sing, and creating the film’s music, as well as a commentary track from the lead actors (Jeff, Colin, Robert, and Maggie), and possibly writer/director Scott Cooper which had the potential to be an enthralling listen; that while what’s included is good, it’s not enough to fully satisfy the film’s many fans.
The Bottom Line:
Crazy Heart is a pretty curious film, because it’s of those films that shouldn’t really work, as it’s a drama in which there aren’t really any noteworthy events to speak of, and one that has a somewhat slow pace, and covers material that’s been covered hundreds of times; just how many stories about washed up has-been’s, with an addictive personality, can there be?; yet it does work, and is strangely compelling, and utterly engrossing right up until the closing credits.
The picture and audio quality on the Blu-ray are both very solid (and undoubtedly miles ahead of the standard definition DVD) but neither are likely to blow the viewers and listeners away (or be used as reference quality material); despite the fact that they are suitably apt for representing the film’s content, can easily compete with most other modern releases, and fare much better than a good deal of similarly budgeted independent films; and the special features fare even worse, as while the content included is valuable, and should entertain both fans and casual viewers alike, there was the potential for so many more interesting features here, that would have been easy to produce.
But in the end, whilst the picture and audio quality may not be reference material, they present the movie as good as it can be seen and heard at the moment, and are by no sense of the word, bad, and the bonus content leaves a little to be desired, the main reason for buying any disc should be the main feature included on it, and Crazy Heart is a thoroughly entertaining, totally captivating, and emotionally realistic, movie that should be seen by just about anyone (kids would find it a little slow and boring, but anyone who appreciates a good drama, a bit of music, or even just a good character driven story is bound to get something positive out of watching), as Jeff Bridges’ performance manages to easily bring Bad Blake to life, and lend the film a real weight and presence that it wouldn’t have had without him; a realistic and heartfelt character story that’s in many ways similar to The Wrestler, but easier for most people to watch, as its not as artsy, and nowhere near as depressing; a real must watch, and highly recommended blind buy for any film fan.