At long last Jeff Bridges is getting the recognition he deserves for his portrayal here of a washed up, grizzled, past his sell-by date country singer, given a shot at redemption by a younger woman.
He plays Bad Blake, a singer/songwriter who has been there, seen that and done it far too many times before. Drowning himself in booze, he is now trawling through the backwaters of America, playing any gig his agent can get him. One evening a member of his backing band asks if his niece, a journalist, might interview the once great man and Bad Blake says yes, which is when Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) walks into his life.
A single mum, Jean is well aware that Bad Blake is bad news, but the pair feel an instant bond and start an affair, which for a while seems to be the making of Bad. However, there’s another lady in Bad’s life – alcohol – and he finds her siren call impossible to resist, while Jean realises her first bond of loyalty is to her son and not a grown man incapable of looking after himself.
Nothing much of anything seems to happen in this quiet, impeccably observed film about life’s waifs and strays, and yet it says more about the human condition than any amount of big Hollywood blockbusters.
Jeff slips into his part here like a pair of well-worn leather chaps and the fit is perfect. His Blake growls and harrumphs but his eyes betray the fact he is a broken man, a man who has let his dreams and his soul slip away from him. Gyllenhaal is an inspired choice as Jean, the journalist who holds up a mirror for Blake to see what he has really become, and there’s something about her unconventionally beautiful features that speaks of wholesomeness and sweetness.
Other members of the supporting cast prove equally inspired choices; Robert Duvall as Blake’s best friend and Colin Farrell playing Tommy Sweet (the rising country star Blake wrote his greatest song for) never overpower Bridge’s masterful central performance.
Meanwhile the music written specifically for the film by the great T Bone Burnett perfectly encapsulates what Bad Blake is all about: “Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while…”