Jeff Bridges has always had an easy charm about him, even being able to portray comic book villains (playing the Iron Monger in the first Iron Man movie) with an ‘awe shucks’ charisma that’s invariably nothing short of breathtaking. He is Bad Blake, the curmudgeon, alcoholic country singer with little concern for decorum or eloquence. The living embodiment of ‘Red Neck’, he uses his last vestige of fame to bed former fans and guilt his protégé Tommy Sweets (Colin Farrell), a now big time music star, into throwing him a bone. Hell, he’s Kris Kristofferson, a little more bruised and without the occasional acting gig to keep him afloat.
It’s this quiet confidence that helps us feel something more than pity for him; the occasional look from Bridges expressing the internal conflicts Blake suffers from. Thus he is pushed from being a rudimentary protagonist into something more fully formed, a character of with nuance despite his monosyllabic tendencies. These same qualities eventually attracts Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a small town journalist, who ends up with more than just an interview under her belt.
The story itself is not an unfamiliar one, taking the form of a musical biopic but it succeeds in avoiding the same sentimentality associated with the genre; no tearful reunions, no deep soliloquies or happily ever afters. It’s this easy going, unpretentious approach that is both the biggest success and failure overall. The ease with which each character is portrayed results in some of the finest acting of the year, particularly Bridges who slips into the role as if it were an old pair of jeans. Gylleenhaal from time to time adapts a frantic urgency, not only out of sync with the script and pacing of the movie, yet it is so sporadic that it’s almost too small to mention. The worst acting comes from Robert Duvall’s cameo, coming across as confused and uncomfortable more than anything else. However the easy going style adopted throughout also leads to a pacing that’s often non-existent. Moving from one scene to another without any degree of urgency means that some scenes feel like needless repetition, desperately in need of further editing.
Regardless, the lack of any pretension, overall charm and layered performances elevate this to something beyond the mundane output of recent times.