Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, an alcoholic singer/songwriter who was once a major star of country music. Now he barely manages to keep things together -- playing small venues in the Southwest while mostly living on the road out of his old pickup truck. With several failed marriages behind him, he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a much younger journalist who re-awakens his spirit. Jean is a single mother with a young son -- who has a history of failed relationships of her own. She and her son become the catalyst for Bad getting his life back on track.
Bridges (Fearless, The Big Lebowski) is amazingly convincing as the washed-up musician -- every ounce of his performance rings true. After seeing all the front-runners in this year's awards season, he's the most worthy of the accolades for Best Actor. Gyllenhaal (Secretary, Away We Go) is also terrific. Robert Duvall has a small role as a bartender friend of Bad's -- maybe he was drawn to participate because the film was reminiscent of his own Oscar-winning turn as a washed-up, alcoholic country singer in 1983's Tender Mercies.
About the only negative I could find is the odd casting of Irish actor Colin Farrell (In Bruges) as Tommy Sweet, a popular and successful country music star Bad once mentored and to whom he finally renews a professional relationship. Farrell manages to do an okay job in the role, but was still a distraction. Singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham also appears -- and performs his Golden Globe nominated "The Weary Kind." Although I do not consider myself a country music fan, I was totally blown away by the country rock score. In a solid directorial debut, Scott Cooper has also written a compelling script. [Rated R; opens wider today]
The Lovely Bones
Based on Alice Sebold's best-selling 2002 novel of the same name, The Lovely Bones is the story of a 14-year-old girl who is murdered in a quiet suburban town in late 1973. Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) plays the murdered girl Susie, who finds herself in 'the in-between' - an almost-Heaven place, observing her family as they grieve for her. She also watches her killer (Stanely Tucci from Julie & Julia) who, having covered his tracks successfully, is preparing to murder again. Her father Jack (Mark Wahlberg) becomes obsessed with his daughter's murder, while her mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) moves away to numb the pain. Susie struggles to balance her desire for vengeance on her killer and her desire to have her family -- which includes two younger siblings -- recover from their loss.
Director and co-writer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) delivers mixed results. He goes overboard in his use of CGI-effects while in 'the in-between' -- some of it works, some of it doesn't. But most importantly, the overuse makes the movie drag. Jackson should have had a better editing eye to trim the movie back from its two hour and fifteen minute run time. However, he does succeed in capturing the early 1970s back on Earth -- and we have to give him credit for the strong performances by his stars -- the captivating Ronan and a creepy turn by Golden Globe nominee Tucci. The parental roles are less fleshed out -- and Susan Sarandon's role as the goofy drunk grandmother seems an odd inclusion. But for the performances of Ronan and Tucci -- and an interesting, yet somewhat poorly executed story -- I give the film a mild recommendation.
- Fox Searchlight has staggered the release of Crazy Heart. Click here to find out when the film opens in your area.
- The Lovely Bones stays true to Sebold's setting outside of Philadelphia. Jackson filmed it in the suburb of Willistown Township, PA -- near the Main Line. Click here for The Philadelphia Inquirer photo gallery of the film's 2007 shoot.
- Check back here next week for a review of Extraordinary Measures.
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