10 January 2010

Review: Crazy Heart

Genre: Drama

Almost a perfect iterative reconstruction of last year's The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky, Crazy Heart, a film not only directed but also written by ingenu Scott Cooper, is however seldom as drab or as seedy as it may have been as such a film, obliging its superiority above its predecessor to a beautiful coherence among its lead actor, its editor, its writer, and its composer(s). All skilled in their own rights, they together create a major 2/3 that is an exceptionally well-acted, well-paced, well-supported, and well-abstracted film, a major 2/3 that rolls along as drearily passionately bisterly as a portrait of a man such as Mr. Bridges' Bad Blake, equipped with his auburn-bister guitar and tawny-bister McClure's, could be. Fall away for those 2/3 the unextraordinariness of minor players (e. g., Ms. Gyllenhaal, who - much like Mr. Hoult in this year's bizarrely parallel film A Single Man - had only to exist without dramatic error to supply Mr. Bridges' leading character; the cinematography, which is quietly natural and earth-bound) and the insufficiencies of others (e. g.., Mr. Farrell, who - despite his previously brilliant performance, which I honored as the best of last year in the leading category - fails to slough off his Irish urbanism to truly become his character; the art-direction, which attempts to establish contemporary Texas and New Mexico by including new purchases from the likes of Ikea into what are supposed to be the seedy back-motels of those states' rural reaches), in light of the extraordinariness of the majors.

However, endurance is not a friend here; despite the film's great major 2/3, the minor 1/3 that concludes Crazy Heart only marginally surpasses itself above the tail-end of predeceasing films like The Wrestler and Half-Nelson (2006), films about struggling men who find that they can and moreover want to effectuate change in their lives. Instead of retaining the character's personal drama at the focus of the work - an admittedly difficult yet well achieved feat in the major 2/3 - the character is let slip away in the minor 1/3, slip behind the tangible and too-easy problems that previously had only superficially and minutely decorated the broader back of his personage, problems like alcoholism, want of family, and want of musical inspiration. Instead of being only the vehicles or textural touchstones through which we as the audience may recognize the internal changes that he as a character has felt, is feeling, and will continue to feel, they become the internal changes themselves; Bad Blake, though attemptedly kept in weary stride by Mr. Bridges, is roughly hewn, stripped of the depth and complexity that has made him until them almost an unbreakable object of attraction on screen, and left for a less intelligent soul's mindlessly pleasant consumption: the intransigent curmudgeon who has magically transformed into the kindly role model - hardly discernible in this way from the endlessly stock version of Carl Fredricksen who dominates the major 7/8 of Disney-Pixar's sadly thus deflating and deflated Up.

As a film-watcher, one suspects that this insubstantial reduction in the minor 1/3 of the film could likely be due to the imaginary constraints by which the film-makers mandated themselves to reign in a film longer than 2 hours in time. Rough cuts, relative to the delicate and precise transitions that preceded them in the major 2/3, that effect a much faster pacing also than that which preceded it indicate as much to me about the film-makers' later choices. While - true - Crazy Heart by the third act's opening was 'in danger of becoming too long' - whatever that may mean - concision need not mean omission, and I remain convinced that there may have been other, more delicate, and less internally destructive ways to drive the film from where it was to where it needed to be.

Still, it was good work overall, and for that work the workers should of course be commended. Specifically: Mr. Bridges' adds a sauntering perspicacity to a character that could have seemed far less colorful and deep in the hands of another player; Mr. Axelrad, the editor, creates a visual rhythm that maintains Mr. Bridges' character's gait even in those scenes in which that character fails to appear, as if the persistent 'heart' after which the film receives its name; Mr. Cooper creates dialogue that is neither overly nor underly informative and knows how to communicate ideas and sentiments less through the spoken word than through the unspoken image; and Mr. Burnett (accompanied by Mr. Bingham), the composer(s), has(ve) established the bister palette from which the entire tone of the film takes its more-than-less coherent cue. More than these commendable fellows, there is not; but that these fellows are enough to make this film perhaps one of the year's soundest is for it enough.

Grade: B+, good.

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