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Cinema in Focus: ‘Crazy Heart’

Jeff Bridges gives a powerful performance as an aging country singer with an alcohol addiction

3 Stars — Powerful

The devastating effects of the disease of alcohol addiction are well known, and yet many choose to risk the disease to indulge in the substance. The reasons vary from individual to individual. For some, it’s a family disease that usually infers a genetic predisposition. For others, alcohol is used as a social lubricant rewarded by increased acceptance, and for still others, alcohol is used as a coping mechanism to help them relax until it turns against them. For Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) in Crazy Heart, written and directed by Scott Cooper, alcohol has become a way of life.

Immersed in the world of country music, Blake has an amazing talent to sing his pain. The pain comes from the loss of four marriages, the abandonment of his son and the fading of his career. Now at 57, Blake is playing in small bars with pickup bands and has lost his drive to perform and his inspiration to write.

Into this twilight comes a young woman with a 4-year-old son, the age of Blake’s son when he abandoned him. This opportunity to build a relationship with the boy and somehow make up for his past compounds the attraction Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Blake have for each other.

As Blake plays with Buddy (Jack Nation), he does so with a grandfatherly patience that builds a strong bond with the boy, who has missed out on having a father in his life.

As Jean and Buddy become a part of Blake’s life, this birthing of a new family is complicated by Blake’s addiction, and it is in this relationship that he is forced to face how alcohol has taken over his life. Turning to his good friend Wayne (Robert Duvall), Blake decides to enter a program to become sober.

This courageous act leads him into a residential 12-step program. It is here that the film provides hope to any who are struggling with addiction. The supportive care of the addiction community and the “higher power” on which each are called to rely are the pillars of the most effective recovery programs available. It is this gift of recovery and sobriety that changes the direction of Blake’s life.

Although Bad Blake returns to his given name and leaves behind the “bad” part of his life, it’s clear that he remains alone. Though unfortunate, it’s often the case that a life of addiction burns the bridges of all meaningful relationships. It would have made the film more helpful if the spiritual part of his recovery had been explored and he had found a supportive community of faith to which he could belong. But the message that a person is never too old to be healed and that recovery is always possible is a powerful message to those who are addicted and their loved ones.


» The natural setting for Bad Blake’s country-blues music is a local bar. Why do you think that is so often the case?

» The love Blake has for Jean is easier to understand than her love for him. Why do you think Jean was attracted to Blake?

» If you had been Blake’s son when he attempted to connect with you after having abandoned you decades earlier, when you were only 4 years old, would you have received his call? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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