Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crazy Heart. (2009) Scott Cooper

When you're alone in that blackened room with the windows shut and the blinds pulled down, with only the ugly white walls to greet you; when you can't tell whether that sneering clock says it's 6:30 am. or pm.; when the breath that you draw is by the second; when your scotch, your awful looking face in the mirror, your weapon and your falling tears are all you're left with -- it's in this moment of confrontation with self that a shift in your operations might occur. There's a choice of two roads close at hand: one option leaves you digging further into isolated, harrowing despair, but the other  -- should you have thoroughly bottomed out -- can help alter your course toward reboot.

In the unparalleled opening scene of Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard seemingly chooses the former. In fact, he makes no real choice, there is certainly no longing for reboot. He wants a mission, and for his sins they find him one, effectively making a choice for him, providing his course. "Harrowing despair," from this point on is a descent into hell, into the bowels of his very worst being. It's a staircase to nosferatu, the depths of the prison leading to Lecter.

Willard looks at the staircase: "Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker... Each time I looked around the walls moved in a little tighter..." He takes the first step down: "I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn't even know it yet..." Another step down: "Someday this war's gonna end. That'd be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren't looking for anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I'd been back there, and I knew that it just didn't exist anymore..."

Willard descends down the staircase like a snail on a razor into Coppola's configuration of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. He tears a hole in the figure of half light and half darkness, the reflection he sees of himself. He leaves what is now his compound the same as if he'd never left his isolated room in Saigon.

Apocalypse Now is no more a film about Viet Nam than Crazy Heart is about country music. Both have a burdened central figure in the midst of insanity. Both have a person at war, trying to figure out the next right move. Crazy Heart gives us Bad Blake's rendition of a story all too familiar with the groveling addict.

Bad could be considered an amazing person. On a moment's notice there are words entrenched in melodies that simply float out of him to land on a listener. He can write in ten minutes what might take others a lifetime of work. But as he ages with his craft the tunes no longer appeal; he's simply not engaged with his talent anymore.

In fact, he apparently no longer engages with anything other than the road to the next liquor store and downing it fast.

That the course from his isolated room to better living seems too gift wrapped doesn't dimnish the rightness of his choice. In his moment of despair, whatever his reasoning, is a desire to move forward and not further down the tumultuous hole. He's burned out and lost in the numbing bottom of his bottle -- to live again means giving up his only friend. But it's a friend that has ruined him, made him socially awkward and messed up his shows. It's ruined relationships and made him age faster. It has drained him of luster for life.

In giving up his only friend he might regain that luster, but it will only happen one day at a time. A recovering addict will never predict tomorrow or three or thirty years down the road. A recovering addict has only one day, every day, to keep living.

From the dismal drunk to the guitar wielding singer, Jeff Bridges brings Bad and his resurrection story with conviction. He fills this role to its fullest, carving out a portrait of a man we hope and wish can become better.

In three days the nominees for Oscar will be announced. I really hope to see Bridges on the list. He paints a portrait of a life that needs to strive for sobriety. It becomes an honest picture of recovering.

We can only hope that Bad Blake is still doing OK when the closing credits have left the screen.

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