Jeff Bridges pulls on the well-worn boots of an aging country troubadour whose last shot at love may also be his last shot at redeeming a broken, alcohol-drenched life.
"It ain't the years, honey," Indiana Jones famously noted. "It's the mileage."
Bad Blake can relate.
For the 57-year-old country music-singing vagabond, the mileage has been massive. Like a wind-driven tumbleweed skipping across the desert floor, Bad traverses the forgotten back roads of the not so Wild West anymore, plying his craft for the faithful few old enough to remember hits penned in better years.
"It's funny how fallin' feels like flying," Bad warbles, "for a little while." True enough. And Bad's fall has been underway for decades.
Eking a living out of his '70s Silverado and mangy roadside hotels, the crusty troubadour travels wherever his manager can book him. Like, say, a bowling alley in Pueblo, Colo. A glance in the rearview mirror of the singer's life shows four failed marriages. As for faithfulness? Well, that's a virtue he's reserved for his one true love: whiskey.
The Ballad of Bad Blake, it seems, lacks only its inevitably tragic country conclusion. "I used to be somebody," he sings, "Now I am somebody else."
Until he rolls into sleepy Santa Fe, that is, where a young reporter shows up to interview him. Jean Craddock, a single mother of a 4-year-old, is eager to tell the former star's story. But as battered by the road as he is, Bad's still, well, bad. And Jean proves unable to resist his grimy charm, even though she says she knows better.
When the old singer's star begins to rise once more with the help of an old friend, it's only a matter of time before Bad's alcoholism sends his unlikely romance with Jean crashing back to earth.
Crazy Heart is a movie about redemption, pure and simple. Specifically, that you're never too old or too far gone to make significant changes, to break old habits or to shoot for a fresh start.
Bad Blake is a broken human being. His best years are far behind him, and he clearly has little enthusiasm for anything but his next bottle of whiskey. But meeting Jean gives Bad someone to live for, something outside himself to focus on. Beyond their sexual connection (which I'll criticize a bit more later), both Bad and Jean seem to value each other for something more. Both eventually say "I love you." Both long for something real and stable and good, even if their age difference and Bad's ever-encroaching alcoholism make achieving that fairy tale-like love a really long shot.
Bad also shows genuine, father-like interest in Buddy, Jean's little boy. He takes the kid to the park, plays with him and buys him gifts. (He goes so far as to give Jean a royalty check to start a trust fund for Buddy.) A poignant conversation between Jean and Bad reveals the singer's guilt over his failure as a father. We learn that Bad has a 28-year-old son he hasn't seen in 20-plus years. In a sense, then, it seems that Bad is looking for a kind of reboot on the mistakes he's made in life.
[Spoiler Warning] Alas, things aren't that simple. Bad takes Buddy out with him one day and ends up … at a bar. He gets drunk while Buddy wanders off. Though they find the boy, Jean's trust is utterly (and rightly) shattered. She chastises Bad harshly for being too "self-involved," and she tells him she can't entrust Buddy to his care ever again. She also admits she knew in her heart that pursuing a relationship with Bad was a risk she really couldn't afford to take.
Good comes from all of this, though. After the incident with Buddy, Bad goes to Alcoholics Anonymous and gets sober. He asks for Jean's forgiveness and confesses his love for her again; she responds kindly but doesn't budge on her boundaries, reiterating that she simply can't be with Bad again. If he really loves her, she says, then he'll leave her and Buddy alone. And so he does. It's not a Hollywood ending, but it's a realistic and wise one.
Besides Jean, Bad has two other important relationships in Crazy Heart. One is with an old bartender friend named Wayne who splits the difference between confidant and mentor. Wayne repeatedly encourages Bad when he's struggling. When Bad gets rejected after trying to reconnect with his own son, Wayne says he did the right thing and that new beginnings are still possible. It's never too late to start over, he says. Likewise, when Bad gets serious about getting sober, Wayne is there to help.
The other significant relationship is with a musician named Tommy Sweet. Tommy was a young singer/guitarist who started out working for Bad but eventually eclipsed him in popularity. While Bad's career stagnated, Tommy's soared. Bad doesn't want anything to do with his successful former protégé. But Tommy reaches out, offers to have Bad open for him at a huge show and brokers a songwriting deal that helps Bad move off of rock bottom. You keep expecting Tommy to do or say something to let Bad know who's in the driver's seat now, but he never does, continually exhibiting humility and appreciation for the way Bad helped him as a young musician.
Of note: Lyrics from the songs in Crazy Heart (written by T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton) often deliver homespun wisdom about life's troubles. On "Fallin' & Flyin'," for instance, Bad sings, "I never meant to hurt no one/I just had to have my way/If there's such a thing as too much fun/This must be the price you pay." Lines like those serve as their own kind of commentary on Bad's self-inflicted predicaments. And the soundtrack's theme song, "The Weary Kind," reflects the second chance Bad gets in the end: "Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try."
Bad closes out several performances by thanking the audience and saying things like "God bless" and "God love you all." While fishing, Wayne sings what seems to be an old spiritual of sorts that includes these lines: "You fathers and you mothers/Be good to one another/Please try to raise your children right/Don't let the darkness take 'em/Don't make 'em feel forsaken/Just lead 'em safely to the light." Another line from one of Bad's songs, "Hold on You," says, "I've been blessed and I've been cursed."
Chemistry between Bad and Jean is evident in their first interview, but she at resists the singer's advances—for 24 hours at least. Then a kiss leads to him on top of her, after which the camera shows them in bed (and her bare shoulders) the next morning.
A sex scene between the pair later is considerably more graphic. Bad lifts her dress to peer underneath, fondles her (clothed) breast and puts a hand down her underwear. We also see her in a partially see-through bra.
Outside the bedroom, Jean's wardrobe consists of cleavage-baring, spaghetti-strap camisoles and/or revealingly tight tops. As for Bad, he's frequently shown without a shirt or with his shirt unbuttoned all the way down.
Bad watches a steamy movie in a hotel room. (We see two people passionately kissing.)
Driving from Phoenix to Santa Fe, Bad falls asleep at the wheel and plunges off an embankment. His Silverado rolls once. He's not wearing a seatbelt and ends up with bleeding gashes on his forehead and collar bone. Later we hear that he also suffered a concussion and a broken ankle.
Bad watches a TV show that features several women yelling at and hitting each other.
Crude or Profane Language
At least 15 f-words, a dozen s-words, close to 10 misuses of Jesus' name and 20-plus abuses of God's name (including a dozen pairings with "d‑‑n"). Nearly 30 other vulgarities are also uttered, include one crude slang reference to masturbation.
Drug and Alcohol Content
You already know that Bad Blake is an alcoholic. Accordingly, the majority of his scenes show him drinking from various bottles and flasks. He drinks everywhere—in his truck, at bars, backstage, even in bed. Several times we see him falling asleep with a bottle in his hand. And when he wakes up, he reaches for it again. During a conversation with Jean, he sets a half-full glass of whiskey on his bare stomach.
It's not all just for countrified grins, though. Crazy Heart realistically portrays the hold Bad's alcoholism has on him. Several times he vomits from drinking too much. Once he's forced to run from the stage in the middle of a song; on another occasion, dressed only in his underwear, he vomits in a toilet before passing out.
Jean tells Bad that she doesn't want him to drink in front of Buddy. But Bad struggles to make good on that request.
And drinking isn't the old singer's only problem. He smokes continually as well. Between virtually every sip he puffs on an ever-present cigarette.
After a car accident, a doctor gives Bad a dose of reality by telling him to quit drinking and smoking or face the probability of dying prematurely from heart disease, stroke or cancer.
Other Negative Elements
The filmmakers have given Bad a couple of odd quirks to illustrate just how broken down he's become. Specifically, he's developed a penchant for going to the bathroom while driving. (We see him climb out of his truck and empty a full container of urine.) And he's constantly forgetting to buckle his belt and fly—one or the other of which are often open.
Wayne mistakenly calls his janitor (who's his only employee) Jesus. The man corrects him, saying his name is Juan. Wayne replies, "Juan, Jesus, whatever." Similarly, Bad asks Buddy if he "speaks Mexican."
"What's your real name?" Jean asks Bad early in their first interview.
"I'm Bad Blake. I was born Bad. When I die, my tombstone will have my real name on it. Until then, I'm just going to stay Bad."
Except that, well, he doesn't. By the end of the film, Bad is not quite as bad as he was in the beginning—symbolized by his willingness to finally tell Jean his real name.
Like Mickey Rourke's starring turn in 2008's The Wrestler, Jeff Bridges inhabits Bad Blake's tired body and life in a way that's emotionally moving. First-time director Scott Cooper said of the story (which was adapted from Thomas Cobb's book), "What I really wanted to capture was the mixture of humor and pathos in Bad's life, and inject it with levity. Bad is an old dog who doesn't know if he has any new tricks, a man who will always go through peaks and valleys but his story moves, in spite of that, towards redemption."
The word redemption literally means "to buy something back." And divorcing it from its typically spiritual connotations, Crazy Heart shows us a man who slowly dares to hope that he can walk a different path than the destructive one that's guided his destiny and yielded little but bitterness and loneliness.
If Crazy Heart is a powerful story of redemption, though, it's also a story that doesn't flinch from picturing what its protagonist needs to be redeemed from. There's not much in Bad's life—from his drinking and smoking, to his vomiting and passing out, to his harsh language, to his willingness to hop in the sack with virtually anyone who's willing—that doesn't need redeeming.