Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crazy Heart

As a movie goer, it is an extreme pleasure to witness a character that I can believe in. Someone with whom I can identify with while sharing in their experiences, both good and bad. Jeff Bridges is able to do so in Crazy Heart with his seemingly effortless portrayal of Bad Blake, an aging country music star who has long since seen his glory days pass him by. Instead of playing for thousands, he instead entertains his faithful followers by performing in bowling alleys and shabby piano bars.

Blake is an alcoholic and smokes too much. He tours around in an outdated Chevy Suburban and has been married five different times. He is every single country music cliche rolled into one, and yet Blake makes it seem that he is the source of those cliches. Bridges portrayal of Bad Blake makes us believe that these events actually happened to him. He can only sit idly by as Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), the young kid who once learned and toured with him is now making it big and when he does try to secure the love of Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), his alcoholism drives a wedge between to two that neither party can overcome. Jeff Bridges has taken every country song ever written and breathed live into them to create Bad Blake.

It is only fitting, then, that the soundtrack is comprised of Jeff Bridges singing original country songs written by T-Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. Bridges' voice, with it's gritty quality and subtle agony, is able to remind us of Blake's history every time he steps up to a microphone all while keeping the singer's pride intact as he performs at a bowling alley.

The preservation of pride in the midst of less-than-ideal situations is what keeps Blake from becoming too much of a cliche. Yes, bad things have happened to him, but he will never do the public a favor by letting them know that. In many ways, Bridges' performance in this movie closely resembles the performance of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler a year ago. And it's true - I haven't cared about another character like I did for Randy "The Ram" Robinson until Bad Blake came along. Both men are desperately trying to salvage their lives after making mistakes time and time again and in doing so, we are reminded that it is the character of a person, not the previous mistakes made by that person, which is so endearing.

Crazy Heart is a film about a country music singer and it flows like a 2 hour country song. There are no gimmicks, no illusions. The performances from Farrell, Gyllenhaal, and Robert Duvall, who plays Bad's longtime friend, all help to detail who Bad Blake really is, despite his flaws. And Jeff Bridges, who has already established himself as a tremendously talented actor, simply added another notch to his belt without showing any effort exerted at all. If only all actors could be so lucky.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shutter Island

Is is no secret that Martin Scorsese is a master storyteller. One only needs to look at his directing repertoire to come to this conclusion. Such is the case with Shutter Island. Here, Scorsese teams up once again with Leonardo DiCaprio to tell the story of U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels who, with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), is sent to Shutter Island, which houses a government facility for mentally unstable criminals., to investigate the disappearance of an inmate. Once on the island, events begin to unfold mysteriously and Daniels begins to believe that there is something more to this scenario than what meets the eye.

What makes this story so compelling is the element of the supernatural and the unstable psychosis. Scorsese is extremely careful in what he displays to the audience so that by the time the credits roll, he knows that the audience isn't exactly sure what to believe. The story begins simply enough, but then Teddy is informed by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) that the woman who disappeared did so as if she evaporated through the walls. Other encounters between Teddy and the inhabitants of the island lead him to believe that there a shady undercurrent to this case.

Shutter Island is portrayed with a Hitchcock-esque style of suspense. There is always the sense that something quite large is happening right under our nose and yet no one, audience and on-screen characters alike, is able to quite figure out what it is. And even when the ending is finally spelled out and a conclusion is drawn together, Scorsese still leave the door ajar for other possibilities. Along with the ever-present suspense is the film-noir style that DiCaprio evokes with his portrayal of Daniels. Yes, Dr. Cawley seems to exude mystery and menace every time he is on screen, but it is the obvious baggage that Teddy Daniels is carrying which makes him equally hard to trust. Shutter Island seems to draw out post-traumatic memories of World War II for Teddy and it all that the audience can do to determine why this is.

Scorsese and DiCaprio prove once again that this is a tandem that is not to be trifled with. Some movie goers may disapprove of the disjointed nature of the film, not to mention the way the ending will blindside viewers. And yet, this is exactly what Scorsese has in mind. While the audience members ask question after question, trying to piece together the events unfolding before them, Teddy find himself doing the exact same thing. And believe me, the ending of this film will blindside no one more than Teddy Daniels himself.