"I knew what the risks were with you, and I took them....."
Country music star Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is 57 years old, broke, and addicted
to alcohol and nicotine. With an odd combination of arrogance and humility, Bad
understands how far he has fallen. This mess of a man is not a pretty picture,
but right from the beginning there is a kindness about him that allows us to be
charmed. That is Jeff Bridges' gift to audiences.
The only light in Bad's life is the open road he travels between gigs in bars and bowling alleys. Otherwise he lives in the oppressive darks of motels and bars. He's been married to four different versions of the wrong woman though we know surely that he was the wrong man for all of them. On one particularly gloomy day, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), niece of the piano player, appears at his door. She has come as an aspiring journalist to interview the former country star. As we watch mutual attraction bubble up, we think at first, 'oh no, not the drunk and the innocent thing again,' but that reaction vanishes quickly in the hands of these two magnetic performers. If Jean is too quick to understand and accept the man behind the bottle and the butts, Maggie Gyllenhaal's quirky, astute performance erases our doubts in short order.
Bad is a foul mouthed, slovenly symbol of his various addictions. He drives with his belt and fly undone so his belly can hang comfortably; he tosses empty bottles into the air of his motel room This is a man who reeks, looks awful in his stained clothes, and lives in the soul crushing darkness of alcohol and failure; but Jeff Bridges lets Jean know there is something good at his core, and that goes a long way for a girl trying to bust out of the limitations of her life. She is on board.
The tone of the movie, set by the two principals, is sustained by other actors who give fine performances in small parts - Robert Duvall, Tom Bower, Colin Farrell, and an endearing Jack Nation as Jean's young son. Bad's admission that, "I've been drunk all my life," is a tough starting point for negotiation with Buddy's mom. "I knew what the risks were with you and I took them. I don't know that I'll ever get over that." When possible redemption looms, neither Bad nor we know whether it's just too late.
Together, Bridges and Gyllenhaal rescue the story from being an ordinary booze tale, but Bridges alone creates the memorable singing nomad. He writes, sings, and plays songs in an appealing, relaxed old country way because country guitar is a passion in his real life. This movie belongs to the man and his music simply because he seems authentic and thoroughly comfortable in the role. The studio tagline, "The harder the life, the sweeter the song" never seemed more true than when Jeff Bridges takes us there.
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