It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for “Crazy Heart” Filmmakers

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Robert Duvall and Margie Barron.

Robert Duvall and Margie Barron.

The end of the year is coming to a close. That means hope for better days ahead in 2010. It also means the movie studios are releasing their best hopes for awards season and Oscar consideration.
So it’s no surprise to see the new Fox Searchlight picture “Crazy Heart” burst onto the scene. It’s one of those great little pictures that feature powerful performances by the best in the business. Four-time Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges stars as the sometimes funny, sometimes tragic down on his luck country singer-songwriter Bad Blake. Two-time Golden Globe nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal radiates as she plays Jean, a small town journalist who discovers Blake’s true story and helps give his crazy heart another chance.
Also behind the finely crafted movie is director-writer Scott Cooper, plus the man he calls the “godfather of this film” Oscar-winner Robert Duvall, who has a supporting role as Blake’s buddy, but more importantly he’s the producer who was the driving force.
Duvall describes “Crazy Heart” as a rougher “Tender Mercies,” for which the much nominated actor finally won his Best Actor Oscar playing a troubled country singer finding redemption. “Crazy Heart,” Duvall says, “really gets to the hard living and a guy fighting with his demons. It’s an age-old story in some ways but Scott Cooper looked at it freshly and with a sense of truth and new dimensions people haven’t seen before.” And it showcases the country music world that Duvall embraces.
Jeff Bridges does a brilliant job singing and playing the fading hit-maker who mentored the current king of country music Tommy Sweet, played with gusto by Colin Farrell.
In between love and struggles, the subject of mentoring adds a subtle touch to the story and Cooper says he wanted to show that Blake’s protégé is grateful. “Colin was able to play that type of gratitude without pushing it in the scenes between him and Jeff.” Speaking of mentors, Cooper as a producer says he “looked to Mr. Duvall as a complete filmmaker.” Duvall reveals he didn’t really have a mentor as he learned to produce projects. “You just kind of find your own way.”
Jeff Bridges proudly says his dad, the late Lloyd Bridges of “Sea Hunt” fame, was his mentor. “Unlike a lot of actors, he really encouraged all of his kids to go into show business. He loved it so much. I remember when I was a little kid he’d say ‘Hey, you wanna be in Sea Hunt? You’ll get out of school. You can make some money and buy some toys.’ So I’d say ‘Okay.’ He gave me the basics of acting, teaching me how to do it.”
As a youngster, Bridges was drawn to music too, and that’s one of the reasons he enjoyed the role of Bad Blake. “I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. I also loved Scott’s script. He knows country music backwards and forwards, and his enthusiasm is contagious.”
The music in “Crazy Heart” is a tribute to the great country singers who wrote songs that will forever be in our hearts. So it is fitting that it should feature great songs. It does. Behind the music is Grammy-winning and Oscar nominated composer and producer T-Bone Burnett (“Walk the Line,” “O Brother Where Art Thou?”), and an impressive young singer songwriter Ryan Bingham.
At the Fox Searchlight press day to promote the movie, there was a mini-concert by Bingham performing the “Crazy Heart” theme song, introduced by T-Bone in such glowing terms that some felt 28-year-old Ryan couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But he did. When Bingham picked up his guitar to sing “The Weary Kind” (co-written with T-Bone Burnett), he did it with a weather-worn voice and depth of a man who has lived a long life of ups and downs.
Chatting with Duvall afterwards, he was beaming when he told me about his love for country music and how much fun he had doing this movie, getting back into that world which he calls “a great American tradition.” Another great tradition is seeing Duvall around for awards season.

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