The Best Actor Award should go to the person who makes you forget who they are. They are absorbed in the role, taking the audience on their journey, becoming the character.
That’s Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart.
Playing a broken down, alcoholic, chain smoking country singer, Bridges is Bad Blake. There is no question to the authenticity of this character. Bridges performs all of the songs, also believable chart toppers, as if he has done this for years.
While the worn out musician, far out of his prime, reeks of Hollywood cliché, Bad Blake is more than that. He is someone who still cares for the music, telling a sound engineer how to properly calibrate in an outdoor environment during a practice session. He is not happy with his current place, performing in front of small crowds at bowling alleys, but despite his drunken state, still performs.
Blake still has a voice somewhere, but refuses to write new material. He has no reason to in his own mind. Where the story takes him, into a relationship with a single mother named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is prime material for clichés and familiarity. It is Bridges who saves this potential melodrama and turns it into something more.
His interactions with Jean’s four-year old son feels real, and their relationship, despite a drastic difference of 28-years (going by their actual ages) develops quickly yet naturally.
Crazy Heart feels authentic, and while that sounds repetitive, there are no adjectives better suited to describing this film as a whole. Crazy Heart’s ending is pitch perfect, an evolution of the character who has redeemed himself, moved on, and can now live his life doing what he loves. Even in its darkest moments, the film never comes across heavy-handed, and despite the upbeat ending, does not feel like a cop-out or too “Hollywood.”
Crazy Heart comes from Fox in an AVC encode, one that is either limited by intentionally soft photography or an inconsistent transfer. It shows signs of potential in both possibilities. Scenes that are sharp come across as artificially so, showing significant edge enhancement early around the 4:20 mark while Blake’s manager is on the phone. His hand and suit show a significant halo, even more so after an edit when he has his feet on the desk.
Another instance of the back-and-forth inconsistency is when Gyllenhaal stands in a doorway around 58:45. In one shot, it is soft but on par with the rest of the film. An edit later, the otherwise natural film grain suddenly becomes heightened, coarse, and digital. In contrast to a shot of Gyllenhaal at the 53-minute mark, which is nicely rendered with fine facial texture, the latter lacks those qualities entirely. Sharpening seems evident in many scenes, yet without any consistency or reason.
Flesh tones take on a warmer tint, although not unnaturally so. Aside from a few close-ups, high fidelity detail is rare. Bridges becomes sweaty during many of his performances, small beads of sweat visible although not necessarily well defined and crisp. Blacks are rich and deep, while crush can be a consistent problem. Many scenes contain limited lighting, so blaming the transfer seems incorrect.
Environments likewise lack definition. Any shot containing plants or tress appear flat, with poor distinction between objects. The pervasive softness prevents any noticeable separation between leaves or grass blades. Adding some possible theories on the encode being at fault, some of the final shots of the film show significant artifacting against the sky. At 1:43:44, the blue sky appears as a series of large blocks, enough to be a distraction and take away from the moment. Watch the same patch of sky as the end credits roll to see the same issue.
Thankfully, one of the film’s more critical aspects is not only consistent, but nearly brilliant. Fox’s DTS-HD effort is simply wonderful. An outdoor concert that turns into a duet with Bridges and Farrell is reference. The echo is fantastic in the surrounds, the cheering crowd in balance, music beautifully clear, and lyrics brought forth with stunning fidelity.
Even in small environments, the opening bowling alley concert for example, a smooth bass line, strong drums, and wonderful guitar clarity is maintained. It sounds live, not pre-recorded. It brings the audience into the moment, enveloping them in what is a flawless music presentation.
Dialogue is mixed somewhat low, especially if you are in an environment that does not allow proper volume. If you have the ability to fully immerse yourself in the songs in full, you will have minor problems.
Despite the praise from critics and the Academy, Crazy Heart contains limited features. Ten deleted scenes (including extended song sequences) run around a half hour, and are sadly of poor quality in terms of both video and audio. What Brought them to Crazy Heart is a brief three-minute chat with Bridges, Gyllenhall, and Robert Duvall about why they took their roles. A trailer and digital copy are also included.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.