THE story of an old washed up good-for-nothing, starring a much loved but often little recognised actor, and promises of beautiful cinematography and acting – sound familiar? This debut flick from director Scott Cooper certainly has something that Darren


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THE story of an old washed up good-for-nothing, starring a much loved but often little recognised actor, and promises of beautiful cinematography and acting - sound familiar?

This debut flick from director Scott Cooper certainly has something that Darren Aronofsky, a personal favourite of mine, seemed to perfect last year in the brilliant drama The Wrestler.

It stars Jeff Bridges this time though, that effortlessly cool bloke from The Big Lebowski, and other than the aforementioned Coen Brothers I don't think I've seen him in a major role.

Co-starring is the strangely alluring Maggie Gyllenhall, who has definitely grown on me since her Donnie Darko days. I've yet to see Secretary (apparently her pivotal so far in this fledgling career) but it's on my to watch list.

The story, from what I've got from the promotional poster and Oscar previews, is Bridges in a musical role - playing some kind of country / folk singer.

With nearly ever major Best Actor award bagged by Bridges so far this year, and with the big one only a month away, I think (and hope!) this will be a little treat.

THOUGHTS AFTERWARDS

I've never been in a position to listen and appreciate country music.

Although technically being a country boy from Doddington, until 18 anyway, I pretty much followed the crowd - it led to a pretty torrid path of Linkin Park, All Saints and Wheatus.

But the brilliant and whimsical tunes in Crazy Heart have potentially converted me.

Even without the songs though, the story of the tired and whiskey-loving Bad Blake is a touching and memorable tale.

It's like an old country song in itself - love, drink, a crash and burn. Bridge's character is effortlessly cool whilst also filling the viewer with empathy. He is travelling bar to bar, bowling alley to dodgy pub, performing the songs he loves but concentrating more on finishing whatever bottle of alcohol he's battling through.

Like any good tale though he meets a woman...

It's also got the vibe of the genre too. The cinematography is outstanding and many scenes looked like paintings (especially one stand-out scene of fishing on a beautiful dreamlike lake). The slow pace adds to the relaxing quality throughout, and although his tough times are raw in their portrayal they let the lumbering scenes play out in a far more natural way than most film-makers would allow.

There were two glistening stand-out performances, aside from the clearly Oscar winning one from Jeff Bridges.

First up is a surprising showing from Colin Farrell; playing the younger, more refined, more successful country singer who was mentored by Bridge's character. He held the accent brilliantly and most of all he showed of a voice that was far-and-away better than I'd expected. Farrell, with the supreme turn in In Bruge recently too, is fast turning into one of my favourite actors.

Next up is the consistently brilliant Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is the only Hollywood sized actress out there so much that can portray tragic desperation in a subtle way. She may say and act in one way but she has something in the eyes of the characters she plays where you know there's more there, where you know they want more.

Country music lovers have found their holy grail in movie terms, and even fans of music generally will admire how honest this story is. The soundtrack has to be the best of the year, with the final credits song so good that I rushed on iTunes afterwards to get it.

One scene, where a tired and drink Bad Blake introduces a song to some 'dear friends' and then throws his guitar down, lurches outside and vomits in a bin - it definitely reminded me of a certain ex singer of The Libertines...

Jeff Bridges performance is nearly as good as Mickey Rourke's last year but I felt that Bridges was not having to 'act' as much (that he was perhaps some of what Bad Blake is anyway).

I'm surprised with the lack of a Best Picture nod for this, although with the similarly themed The Wrestler not receiving one last year I probably shouldn't be too shocked.

But this is definitely up there for me as one of the best movies of the year. It pottered along slowly at some points but I think that's the whole point; it's a relaxing, emotional, battered journey - but I loved it from minute one to a hundred.

TIM LINCE

5/5 STARS