Jeff Bridges is Otis "Bad" Blake, a part-time washed-up country singer and full-time alcoholic who seems destined to continue his shambolic existence until a chance meeting with a young journalist sets off major changes in his life. Making a pittance playing small-town gigs the length and breadth of America, Blake's life is a muddle of meaningless, brief relationships and disappointment - all compounded by the fact that his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is Nashville's current number one son.
Blake's life changes, however, when he happens upon the small-time reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who interviews the faded performer before one of his concerts in Santa Fe. Despite his involvement with Jean and her young son Buddy, Blake's drinking continues to spiral out of control, resulting in a near-tragic mishap which provides him with the catalyst he needs to turn his life around.
The first-time writer and director Scott Cooper keeps the film going at a nice, if slightly slow pace, but it's Bridges who makes Crazy Heart. There's no Hollywood glamour to Bridge's portrayal of the lugubrious Blake (whose musical traits Bridges based on the country supergroup The Highwaymen, featuring Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson). Instead, his performance is a truly authentic and believable portrayal of a man seeking redemption for all the wrongs he has caused.
Gyllenhaal, too, excels as the single mum Jean, whose vulnerability and small-town innocence are captivating. Having successfully conquered the box-office as Rachel Dawes in 2008's The Dark Knight, Gyllenhaal has proved to be an all-round player, able to tackle both big-budget and small, independent features such as Crazy Heart. Interestingly, Robert Duvall, who has a minor part in Crazy Heart as a former country singer and Blake's AA mentor Wayne Kramer, won his one and only Best Actor Oscar for playing much the same role as Bridges, in 1983's Tender Mercies.
After receiving five Academy Award nominations throughout his 50-something year career (three for Best Supporting Actor and two for Best Actor), it seems fitting then, that Bridges took home the top award for this role at this year's Oscars for the first time in his life. Country and western may be something of an acquired taste, but the accompanying soundtrack - which was primarily composed by T-Bone Burnett, Stephen Bruton and Ryan Bingham - is excellent, and won Burnett and Bingham the Oscar for Best Original Song for The Weary Kind.
Impressively Bridges and Farrell also do their own singing (with the help of the vocal coach Roger Love) and a scene halfway through the film in which the two duet in front of a large audience is as good as Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon's effort in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005).