I’m a fan of country music. Real country music. Not the fake plastic stuff you hear on most “country” stations these days. Music that tells stories of life on the road, stories about trains, stories about love and loss. Music sung by men and women who have spent their lives travelling the country, collecting tales for their songs and living life to the fullest. Music that’s soaked in whiskey, steeped in blues, and drenched in heartbreak.
So it stands to reason that I would enjoy a movie that follows an old country musician while he plays out his career in tiny bars, in remote places, to dwindling crowds. And I did. A lot.
Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country legend whose star has faded and fanbase has aged. He’s been married four times. He drives a beat up old pickup truck. He’s an alcoholic. In other words, he’s a living country music cliche. His agent books him a tour of the Southwest, playing dive bars and bowling alleys. He’s eeking out a living, doing the only thing he knows how. Something he once loved, and maybe still does, but something he doesn’t seem fully engaged in anymore.
Since Crazy Heart is a modern independent movie, it’s safe to assume there is some grand epiphany and some major changes in his life. Both happen, but neither is handled in a trite way. The story is solid, the acting good, and the characters well-sketched. But, for me, what made the movie was the music.
Jeff Bridges and Colin Ferrel do an admirable job singing and playing guitar, but what really impressed me was the songs. T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham wrote original songs for the film, and they are universally good. “The Weary Kind” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and it is certainly deserving, but my favorite was “Fallin and Flyin”. The opening line of the chorus, “It’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ for a little while”, sounds like something Hank Williams, Sr might have written. The songs are simple, straightforward, and everything that’s good about country music.
At one point in the film a reporter asks Bad Blake what current artists are “real country”. He dodges the question, but the implication is clear: Bad Blake is real country in way not many current artists are. And that’s a real good thing.