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Originally published January 7, 2010 at 2:13 PM | Page modified January 8, 2010 at 10:31 AM

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Movie review

'Crazy Heart': You'll be crazy about Jeff Bridges' performance in this movie

A review of the movie "Crazy Heart." Jeff Bridges gives one of the standout performances of 2009 in this tale of a country musician reflecting on lost youth, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 4 stars

'Crazy Heart,' with Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Tom Bower, James Keane. Written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb. 111 minutes. Rated R for language and brief sexuality. Several theaters.

MOVIE REVIEW 4 stars

There's something comforting about the way Jeff Bridges' relaxed drawl floats lazily at the center of Scott Cooper's wonderful "Crazy Heart," the tale of a faded man trying to find color again. Bridges, in one of the finest performances of the past year, revisits territory he first explored 20 years ago in "The Fabulous Baker Boys": a talented yet undisciplined musician on the outskirts of success, playing small venues and just getting by.

But while his Jack Baker, plunking out "Feelings" at tired piano bars, still had a weary bad-boy glamour, the fate of Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart" is somewhat less picturesque. Bad, in his late 50s, wrote hit country songs once upon a time; now he crisscrosses the country in his beat-up car, peeing into a bottle and staying at the kind of motels where the pool is always drained. He plays gigs at bowling alleys and low-rent bars, usually getting drunk before closing (necessitating a mid-performance break to vomit). "I used to be somebody," he sings, "now I am somebody else."

You look at Bad and see a florid, sweaty, often angry man with a lion's mane of gray hair and an ever-present cigarette, which he smokes seemingly for lack of anything else to do. (At one point, he absently pulls several cigarettes from a pack with his mouth, letting all but one fall forgotten to the floor.) But listen to him, and something else emerges: a courtly fellow, with gentle manners when he wants to use them, and a way of translating pain into song that's wonderfully poignant. Though he's difficult to work with, his talents are still in demand; former protégé Tommy Sweet (an uncredited, beautifully low-key Colin Farrell) is anxious for more songs, but Bad finds it easier to coast, watching porn in motel rooms and wondering what happened to his youth.

And then, as a country song might have it, love walks in, in the form of a journalist named Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She's a soft-spoken single mother who asks Bad the kind of questions that make him change the subject. "I want to talk about how bad you make this room look," he tells her; it's a moment of oddly phrased sweetness, and Jean doesn't quite know what to do with it. An awkward yet delicate love affair ensues, with Bad knowing she's good for him and Jean knowing he's bad for her, until Bad's demons re-emerge and "Crazy Heart" takes some unexpected detours.

First-time writer/director Cooper is a rare talent; he knows how to keep his story fine-boned and small, and to write a truly complex, troubled character who nonetheless enters our hearts. His casting is right on: Bridges and Gyllenhaal have a sweet yet spiky chemistry, and Robert Duvall (who won an Oscar as a country singer in "Tender Mercies") is perfect as Bad's faithful pal. And the songs, most written for the film by T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton, come from that place in the soul where the best country music lives, letting the characters sing the feelings and dreams they can't speak. "Pick up your crazy heart," goes one, late in the movie, "and give it one more try."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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