The rocky road to country-and-western security comes to the screen with a song in its heart, a groupie in every bar and enough bourbon to refloat the Titanic.
Director/writer Scott Cooper has taken Thomas Cobb’s novel and, blessed with a marvellous cast, cobbled together an engaging production that’s long on music if a tad short on narrative believability.
Without an ounce of doubt, Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Bad Blake is superb. Whether guzzling in his briefs prior to an interview that would change his life, belting out ballads for small crowds or stadium hordes, baking biscuits (really!) or finally coming to the conclusion that his decades’ long bender needs a double bar of its own, Bridges puts his heart, soul and commendable singing voice into the mix, carrying much of the film singlehandedly.
As the intrepid, single-mom reporter who falls head-over-guitar for the drunken troubadour, Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Jean Craddock, makes the most of the weakest link in the character development department. Delightfully precocious and surprisingly evenly tempered, four-year-old Buddy—Craddock’s son—has a talented advocate in the form of Jack Nation. But the storyline loses its lyrical sense when the writers are forced to have both mother and son vanish too conveniently from the set in order to orchestrate Blake’s sobering crisis.
Seeming a little out of place—given his considerable experience—is Robert Duvall, who is also one of many producers. Playing Blake’s home-base barkeeper/semi tough-love pal, he inadvertently soils the tone by being forced to make a totally off-key racial slur as he tries to introduce Jesus (or is it Juan—they all look the same …) the only wait staff he can afford to keep on the Houston lounge’s no-receipts payroll. Edit, please.
The ever-successful, I-owe-it-all-to-Bad singer-sometime-songwriter, Tommy Sweet, is done up proud and in tune thanks to Colin Farrell’s wide-ranging skills. Lurking in the background is Bad’s wily manager, (James Keane) whose cellphone interventions keep what’s left of a stalled career sputtering along before magically bringing washed-up mentor and material-lite star into unexpected harmony that may just put both careers considerably higher in the charts.
Come for the headliners, but stay for the tracks (with original music by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Burnett)—there’s more than enough toe tappin’ tunes to drown out the trumped-up b-side plot. JWR