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The Crazy, Stoic Heart

After saying something really controversial like Tea Partiers aren’t Fascists, I thought it safer to return to a relatively trans-partisan commentary on a good movie.  This is part of my emerging series of movies about Stoic Americans.  It’s also part of my series on movies about Stoic Americans played by Jeff Bridges (see my BIG THINK reiews of True Grit).  It’s also, finally, part of my series on movies that are supposed to remind you of one of the very best American movies ever–Tender Mercies (as you will see in my forthcoming commentary on No Country for Old Men).  You might be offended that this review might be regarded as last year’s news.  But I remind you that I wasn’t blogging on this channel last year.  There are, of course, many ways you could still see this movie today.

Crazy Heart supposed to remind you of Tender Mercies. There’s another old-guy, almost has-been brilliant country singer/songwriter turned around by a beautiful single mom with a father-starved little boy. Robert Duvall, who plays the redeemed country singer in Tender Mercies, shows up in Crazy Heart as the only real friend of the Bridges character, and he sings just enough to remind us that he really can.

The frist thing to be said is that Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall are arguably the most effortlessly manly American actors, although they also both exceedingly subtle masters of their craft. The second is that the musical performances by Bridges are utterly convincing as grizzled Texas greatness, as are the ones by Colin Ferrell as today’s country slickness. All the songs are good, and a couple you like more and more as you hear them sung repeatedly. Go to the movie just for the music.

The Bridges character, even at his most drunken, is a real gentleman, a dignified man in full (or as full as possible given his circumstances). He treats his fans and his old songs with the class they deserve, and he knows (except when really, really drunk) how to treat women. He even can figure out how to puke with dignity in the middle of a performance. He’s also lonely beyond lonely, a fact that both is the cause of and caused by his being drunk for decades.

The Duvall character in Tender Mercies is redeemed by the woman and her boy, reconciles with his daughter (for a while at least), gets baptized, and his whole personal life is restored in tact. It’s quite a story about grace.

The Bridges character is dumped by the girl once she realizes that he’s dangerous for her boy and can’t get anything going with his son whom he hasn’t seen for 24 years. He is returned to physical, mental, artistic, and financial health after turning himself over not to God but to rehab experts. The single mom, quite reasonably, still doesn’t take him back, but he manages to stay on the wagon. The movie ends with his being reconciled with his uncompensated loneliness and even with the woman he loves getting what she needs and deserves (a good, presumably younger, reliable guy). It’s quite a Stoic tale.

Overall (and although Crazy Heart is not as good as Tender Mercies), these two films display the twin peaks or fundamental alternatives to dominant American Lockeanism found in our South and its music–evangelical Christianity and Stoic philosophy (on the latter, see William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee).

The last thing to be said is that this is a very EROTIC movie–much more ertoic than, say, the more graphic Blue Valentine. All of Bridges’ longings (and hers) are animated in his relationship with the Maggie Gyllenhaal character (an aspiring writer with a love of a man of beautiful words, music, and deeds–but a mom above all else). This is the most credible and tragic film couple in a long time. Love doesn’t conquer all, as both the old stoic poet and the realistic young mom know. Maggie G deserves the big awards as much as Bridges for getting so much across in so few words.


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