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Crazy Heart

The first time I saw Jeff Bridges was when my sister took me to see Tron in 1982.  Although its special effects were a marvel to my young eyes, as I re-watched it in later years I was impressed by his acting skills amongst the primitive CGI.  That’s perhaps the key to his longevity as his ability to adapt to any genre has seen him elevate certain films above their worth.  Crazy Heart is another benefiting from his presence with a somewhat clichéd story riding on his esteemed coat-tails.
Formerly a highly paid country singer, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is down on his luck eking out a living at various seedy bars.  While on another of his alcoholic binges, he meets reporter Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Gradually falling in love, the pair try to create a life for themselves.  While dealing with the success of former protégé Tommy (Colin Farrell), Bad’s wicked ways re-surface with the much needed path to redemption paved with the spectre of broken promises.
First time director Scott Cooper shows a lot of promise with Crazy Heart.  The story of someone climbing back to the top isn’t anything new, but what Cooper does is to make us care for the characters.  Easy given the small but talented cast as Bad Blake comes to terms with his wayward life.  It’s fascinating how the screenplay uses Tommy and Blake as mirror images.  Tommy is the person Blake used to be whilst the elder sees the young upstart paving the way towards the self-destructive tendencies of his current life.
Jean is someone thinking they can redeem Blake’s wounded soul but soon realising the only one who can fix things is Blake.  These elements are well juxtaposed amongst the wonderfully performed country songs all done by the actors themselves.  The strands dealing with Bad’s celebrity are interesting as his fame seems to be worth more than his actual talent.  If this was shown a little more it may have gone some way in further exploring Bad’s descent into alcoholic purgatory.  Overall whilst the film is hardly original and maybe is a little too long it remains engaging viewing.
When Tron 2 finally arrives later this year, it’ll be a very different Jeff Bridges to the one I saw decades ago.  Given the wealth of experience in between, this amiable actor should do it credit as he does as Crazy Heart’s perennially troubled cowboy.
Rating out of 10:  7 

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s directorial talents are undisputed.  From Mean Streets to The Departed his body of work is certainly one of high esteem.  But like us mere mortals, not even he can escape the demons of failure.  Such is the case with Shutter Island, a film seemingly brimming with promise ultimately becoming a disappointment.  You can’t begrudge his efforts however, as even during its less than lucid moments the film maintains a modicum of interest.
In 1954 Federal Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) have been summoned to Shutter Island.  Used as an exclusive enclave for a facility for the criminally insane, it is overseen by the enigmatic Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley).  Asked to investigate the disappearance of a patient, the case particularly seems to affect Teddy.  Exploring an island of lost identities, he comes to realise its most elusive is his own.
To say anymore about Shutter Island’s plot would ruin its twists.  What can be said is this adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel perhaps proves some stories should remain within its pages.  It’s very difficult to translate such a dense psychological thriller to film as cinema has to visualise a person’s thoughts to compensate for a lack of personal contemplation.  Scorcese gives it a good go, but ultimately he seems to have been overwhelmed by its many layers as strands featuring Nazi war crimes, Communist conspiracies and marital traumas meld into a confusing quagmire.
There’s a sense of detachment running through the narrative as if Scorcese is afraid to fully embrace his characters.  A shame given some good performances, although most of the actors seemingly spend most of the time grappling with their complex roles.  The soundtrack also does proceedings no favours with a booming score almost spoon feeding the audience in feeling the alleged terror to come.  The only thing truly working is the cinematography which is amazing and allows the scenery to reveal its beauty and menace superbly. 
At its best, Shutter Island is a noble failure giving Martin Scorcese a chance to try something different.  At its worst, the uneven acting, poor story construction and lack of emotional bite sink what could have been a memorable film.  Like some of his work, Shutter Island may polarise viewers as its long winded essay into mental psychosis fails to sustain interest.
Rating out of 10:  5