Okay, so I’m a little late on the uptake, but I had to wait to see Crazy Heart. Even though my town figures in the film rather prominently, it didn’t begin playing here in New Mexico till February. Back in November or so, I first saw a rough You Tube preview of the film and thought it might be a bio of Waylon Jennings. Jeff Bridges’ stance and his sweaty, soulful stage presence seemed taken right from one of Jennings’ performances from the era around 1979 or 1980. The original novel by Thomas Cobb was published in 1987 and he has said that the character is a composite including honky-tonk icon Hank Thompson.
The movie had me from the first scene, when Bad Blake pulls up to his gig in Pueblo, Colorado. If you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil his grand entry, but I knew from the moment that Bad departs his Silverado that this film had captured the gritty side of music and the life on the road. It isn’t an innovative plot; not surprising in any way. It is the performances and crafting of the movie that are the real story.
The beautiful scenery of the southwest, with its clear skies and the hues of the sage-covered plains, blazes across the screen, almost as one of the characters in the story. The music was lovingly and carefully created and chosen. As a DJ from the early Americana era of the late 1970’s and 80’s, I am pretty critical of music that is used in movies of this time, and in depicting this style. So when the soundtrack of a movie features the music of Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver (although I would have like to have heard his version as well), Lucinda Williams, Buck Owens, Kitty Wells, the Delmore and the Louvin Brothers, Sam Phillips, George Jones and of course Hoss himself, Waylon, it is doing pretty well in my estimation.
In fact I think T-Bone Burnett should probably do all soundtracks from now on. Just sayin’. Also, the involvement of the late Stephen Bruton is an essential part of the movie. You can feel his presence in each musical scene, as well as the incredible songwriting that make the character so real. Add Ryan Bingham, whose first record had promise, but who now seems to have blossomed in his affiliation with Burnett. Colin Farrell, who knew? (other than punk stylings a while back) And Bridges’ singing is so good it has to be a large consideration in his bid for the Best Actor Oscar. It is damned refreshing to see someone actually playing a guitar, and delivering a great singing performance. I’ve always wondered… especially since it is acting, after all, how hard it can be for actors to learn how to place three chords while “singing” on film? The answer is to hire an actor who is also a musician, as is Bridges. It is the role he has beautifully aged into playing and he’s done it proud.