Jeff Bridges steals the show in “Crazy Heart”

Bernardo Vigil

First time director Thomas Cobb’s film, “Crazy Heart,” achieves little in terms of originality, plot, or even character. Most of us have seen movies about drunken old men giving their lives a complete 180 and starting anew. What we haven’t seen, however, is a film that portrays the process with such honesty, sincerity and skill that one can’t help but be moved by the same old story that has been recycled a million times.

Set against the dusty backdrop of the southwestern United States, “Crazy Heart” tells the story of former country star Bad Blake (flawlessly performed by Jeff Bridges) as he struggles to break the age-old habits that made him a former country star in the first place.

Giving just enough back-story for the viewer to understand Blake’s situation, the real plot begins early on in the film when a young and attractive journalist named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhall), along with her four year old son, decide to become a part of Blake’s life.

This beginning also presents the film’s most glaring contradiction; why would any character played by Maggie Gyllenhaal ever fall for a fat old Bridges? As one would expect, however, this new found sense of family inevitably puts Blake’s career and personal life back on track.

Fortunately, Bridges embodies Black to such a tee that it is more than easy to overlook his oh-so cliché life story. Absorbing everything from his noticeable Texan accent, to his pants-less, drunken swagger, Bridge’s obviously challenging performance is really what brings the film to such great heights, in addition to keeping the film from seeming contrived.

The fact that he also sings and plays guitar for the part not only make him a more believable character, but also make his performance all the more impressive. It is rare to find an actor’s work that fixes all of a movie’s notable faults, but Bridge’s does just that.

His performance, however, does not stand alone; every character from his love interest Jean, to her son, to Blake’s bartending friend and confidant Wayne (Robert Duvall), to Blake’s former partner (Collin Farrell), are performed with a certain realism that not only complement Bridge’s performance, but elevate it.

The final string that ties the movie together is the music. With much of the original music written and produced by T-Bone Burnett — the same man behind the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack — Crazy Heart’s soundtrack is simultaneously a perfect reflection of the rough beauty that is the story, and a return to the artistic legitimacy that country music today is so often missing.

Everything from the raspy lo-fi vocals to the acoustic musicianship help create a sound that other musicians would do well to imitate, as well as a movie for which directors should do likewise.