It's what's inside 'Crazy Heart' that matters

The film "Crazy Heart" is one of those rare films that examines a character with insight and, in its own way, affection.

That isn't to say that country western singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is by any stretch attractive. Charming to be sure, in a dissipated, chain-smoking, alcoholic, resolutely self-destructive way.

After decades on the road, he's beyond the nadir of his career as a performer and songwriter, now solidly middle-aged, broke and playing bowling alleys in adjunct lounges named "The Spare Room," or small, smoky bars frequented by those who remember when and still resonate to lyrics like, "I use to be somebody, but now I'm somebody else." His nights are spent in seedy motels, sometimes in the company of a woman who looks at Blake and sees only a memory, that once deeply talented musician/singer and not the staggering wreck of a man who rushes off the stage and vomits in a bucket in a back alley.

Clearly that sounds grim; it's not. Bridges' portrayal of Blake is compelling, a fascinating study of a man circling the drain who can still muster the will to live, no matter the countless abiding regrets, and still find those banked embers of passion for standing on a stage, such as it is, and singing music that remains embedded in his heart.

Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays Jean Craddock, a young journalist in Santa Fe, N.M., who shows up at one of Blake's gigs asking for an interview for the local paper. She's lovely, a single mom, and attracted to Blake for reasons that are never really clear. She acknowledges that she isn't looking for another man to break her heart, or a man whose life is dominated by alcohol ("It's like living with a rattlesnake"). And here comes Bad Blake, wrinkled and sweaty and paunchy, smelling like a gym sock left in a P.E. locker over the summer. And yet there she is, all but courting him. What is never made completely convincing is why she would ever allow anyone remotely like Blake into her life. He's an emotional train wreck, a man poised on a precipice. And still she allows him to baby-sit her 4-year-old son, an act of startling trust that almost requires a suspension of disbelief.

Actually, the best thing about "Crazy Heart" is not the story, which is a variation on a theme that is all too familiar. Instead, what makes the film compelling are the fine performances of Bridges and Gyllenhaal, who have both been nominated for Oscars. They transform themselves, each delivering nuanced portrayals of interesting people. Not attractive people, necessarily, not people who have all their rough edges sanded down, but flawed and fallible characters that often don't choose well and know it.

Tangentially, odds are good that Bridges will win. His career spans 40 years, his talent ever consistent and on display in "Crazy Heart."

Editor's note: The Southern Oregon Film and Television Filmmaker Series presents a discussion with John Axelrad, film editor of "Crazy Heart," following the 6 p.m. showing of the film on Saturday, Feb. 27. All seats are $10 and include the 6 p.m. showing.

Shutter Island

Shutter Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts, is a federal maximum-security prison for the criminally insane.

In the opening scene of Martin Scorsese's film, "Shutter Island," a small ferryboat slides out of a wispy fog and bears down on the only harbor on the island. Beyond stand dark, hunched buildings from another century. There is something foreboding, even ominous about the place, long ago named Ashecliffe Asylum.

Terry Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), both United States marshals, have been sent to the island to search for an escaped patient, Rachel Soldano (Patricia Clarkson). Immediately, as the marshals, in the company of grim prison guards, enter through the gates of the asylum, the noir mood of the film is established and then is slowly ratcheted up. Patients stand silently watching, some raking the lawns, other tending plants. All have a chilling, vacuous look.

Soon it becomes evident, through a series of flashbacks, that Daniels is struggling with demons of his own. He explains to Chuck that his wife died in a fire, a tragedy that haunts him still, causing him severe migraines.

"Shutter Island" is a series of set pieces in which Daniels discovers that the asylum is a labyrinth of elusive truths, long corridors, dark rooms, and a force 5 hurricane that lashes the island and strands the two marshals until ferry service can be restored. Soldando, as it turns out, is nowhere to be found, and the staff, headed by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), can offer no explanation. She has literally vanished. And so the hunt continues.

There are countless moments in the film where Scorsese pays explicit homage to Alfred Hitchcock, especially to the classic "North by Northwest." And there's a shower scene with Daniels letting the water sluice over his face that mirrors "Psycho." But then, like so many of Hitchcock's films, "Shutter Island" is a psychological thriller that twists and turns, growing ever more convoluted and enigmatic.

The cast is superb. Clarkson delivers a powerful and understated cameo as Soldando. Max Von Sydow, an extraordinary character actor, portrays a psychiatrist with allusions to a Nazi past. And Kingsley, as the chief physician, is, again, exceptional. As for DiCaprio, it's his most powerful role since "The Aviator."

It's all but impossible to say more about this film without flirting with the ending, which surprises. "Shutter Island" will find its core audience, made up, in the main, of cinephiles who have followed the work of Scorsese over these many decades. They will not be disappointed.

Share This Story