Bad Blake, the shot-to-hell country-music singer played like a well-tuned fiddle by Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, makes his first appearance with a bottle in his hand. There’s nothing new in that, since Bad’s days and nights are measured by the pint. Booze has rotted him, destroying his health, busting his marriages, and rusting the talent that once, briefly, brought him fame. But in this case, it’s not a liter of liquor but a container of urine from Blake’s long drive — a sign of his degradation, emptied in a slosh of yellow liquid in the parking lot of the next crummy stop on his two-bit road tour: It’s the by-product of a man pissing his life away. The gesture is pathetic, authentically lived-in, grimy.
And it’s just one of dozens enacted with utter authority by Bridges — that well-loved movie vet, that generously unvain actor so appealing in midlife spread. Bridges’ guileless performance makes this piquant little indie tale of country music, redemption, and the love of a pretty younger woman such a sad-song charmer. It doesn’t hurt that Colin Farrell makes a keenly calibrated, underplayed appearance as Tommy Sweet, the protégé whose fan base and fortunes have expanded as Bad’s have shriveled. Both stars do their own fine singing, too, to pithy country tunes of loss and longing by Stephen Bruton and O Brother, Where Art Thou? maestro T Bone Burnett.
As for the pretty younger woman, that’s where writer-director Scott Cooper’s otherwise bull-free first feature, based on a novel by Thomas Cobb, goes soft. When Bad pulls into Santa Fe for a gig, he crosses paths with an aspiring journalist named Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who just happens to recognize the good that’s in Bad, even if the guy is grizzled, sozzled, and wreathed in cigarette smoke. Jean is a divorced single mom with a generically adorable little son, a lady in the slinky, sensual Gyllenhaal mold who’s so hip yet earthy that her garden blooms with color in the desert. Although she claims she’s made enough mistakes not to pick another loser, she gives herself (and entrusts her son) to a 57-year-old drunk with a beer gut. (Further enhancing Bad’s decrepitude, Bridges is often shot with a view over his belly and up his armpit.)
I can only figure that Jean takes a chance because the stranger looks a little like the irresistible Jeff Bridges. I mean, what woman wouldn’t give the dude a whirl? B+