Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall.
Directed: Scott Cooper.
Rated M (Coarse language). 111 min.
Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan
BASED on a 1987 novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb, this film is a quality romantic drama that carries considerable punch.
Earning an Oscar nomination for best performance by a leading actor (Jeff Bridges) and best performance by a supporting actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the film tells the story, with great emotional realism, of a down-and-out ageing alcoholic singer, “Bad” Blake (Jeff Bridges), who is reduced to playing in bowling alleys and dingy bars in Southwest America.
Alcohol provides his anchor in life after five (or maybe four, he says) failed marriages.
Blake hasn’t had a hit in years and is destitute financially.
He is a has-been country singer, who has seen much better times, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is Jean Craddock, a much younger, divorced journalist-writer, who interviews him and falls for him despite all the risks.
The love between them becomes the reason why Blake begins to turn his life around and he bonds to Jean’s son.
Her tough-mindedness becomes a foil to his vulnerability and the unlikely couple connect with some surprising chemistry.
But alcoholism fails to loosen its grip, and the relationship between Blake and Jean falters.
While drunk, Blake loses Jean’s child in a shopping centre, and that is not a risk Jean is willing to take again.
What might have been redemption through a love relationship eventually becomes one found through music as Blake re-discovers his professional friendship with Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) a musician he once mentored and who throws him a helping hand, and Wayne (Robert Duvall) an old friend, who helps him find fresh meaning in life.
Ultimately, it is the power of music from within that reforms Blake. Music provides a core structure to the film and the movie fuses music and drama together very well.
The temptation to become sentimental is always present in the movie, but the film manages to avoid its lure.
Bridges sings his own songs in the movie (as Farrell does), and in a world of artificial country music the film tries to capture “what real country is”.
Bridges draws the audience deep into the recesses of Blake’s heartbreaks and his victories become our own.
The story of a faded alcoholic trying to rediscover himself is one that is old and has been tried many times, but Bridges gives that story new meaning and one forgets about the derivative nature of the plot-line in the authenticity of his acting.
He enlivens the stereotype of the jaded artist, and his generous performance rises above any familiarity in the story-line.
The quality of Bridge’s performance, with its casualness and dignity, has already won for him the 2010 Golden Globe award for best actor.
The film is an impressive first performance by Scott Cooper who made the movie in just 24 days, and he provides the film with sustained and penetrating direction that works.
Fortunately, Bridges took up the role that he originally turned down, and Cooper directs him unerringly by using both humour and sadness.
There are lots of moral lessons to draw from this movie. After a life filled with bad habits, it is possible to place them behind you.
Although it is not a feel-good movie and it is aimed essentially at grown-ups, the film offers food for thought about relationships that count, and the effects that drinking can have on them.
Despite the excessive drinking and strong language in the movie, its lessons are worth heeding and the film conveys them with force.
Blake’s journey to redemption is as positive for us, as it is involving.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.