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Two Oscar nominees open at The Carousel Luxury Cinemas:

Reviews of Crazy Heart and A Single Man

By Clayton Dillard


Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Opening at The Carousel Luxury Cinemas this past Friday were two critically-acclaimed, Oscar nominated films. The first is Crazy Heart, the directorial debut of writer/producer/director Scott Cooper. The buzz, however, has been solely for Jeff Bridges, who already took home a Golden Globe and SAG award for his portrayal of Bad Blake, a late-50’s alcoholic country singer, washed-up and without purpose. When a reporter named Jean (Oscar- nominated Maggie Gyllenhaal) asks him for an interview, he reluctantly agrees, but soon finds himself in a relationship, perhaps as vulnerable as he’s ever been.

Cooper’s film shares much in common with last year’s The Wrestler, another flick about a tired veteran giving it one last go. The narrative beats are nearly identical; the relationship with the single mom, the estranged son/daughter, the drug or alcohol abuse and the inability to change. These men would rather die doing what they love than live without it.

Much like Mickey Rourke’s “The Ram,” Bridges plays Bad with seasoned wisdom: the wily demeanor of the character translates to bottled-up emotion, which can only come pouring out during the film’s climax. The approach makes sense for Bridges, but his performance doesn’t have the inherent “art imitating life” component that made Rourke’s seem so desperately devastating. Nevertheless, Bridges makes almost every scene work and uplifts the hackneyed material. Near the end, when he tells Jean “I love you so much,” it’s the single most deeply-felt line any film from 2009.

Crazy Heart, though, fails to match Bridges on just about every level, except for the music, which is outstanding. After about the midway point, Cooper throws in one heavy-handed scene after another, from Blake crashing his truck to losing Jean’s son in a shopping mall, all due to his alcoholism. Plus, Gyllenhaal’s character never gets proper footing, at first seeming like her request for an interview holds an ulterior motive, then afraid to enter into another relationship. It’s the exact type of small indie drama that seems to appear with regularity these days.

Yet, Bridges’ performance the great song entitled “The Weary Kind”, and a solid supporting turn from Colin Farrell provide enough bright spots to make it memorable in places. A request though: can the next film about a washed-up 50-something hasbeen please tack on a story with the emotional resonance to match its lead actor?

Also opening on Friday was A Single Man, based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. It too is a directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford- who also co-wrote the script with David Scearce. Like Crazy Heart, it features an Oscar-nominated lead actor, Colin Firth. Firth plays George, a 1960’s English professor in Los Angeles, grieving the death of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode), who recently died in a car accident. Essentially a series of encounters – including a curious student (Nicholas Hoult), a drifter from Madrid (Jon Kortajarena) and a long-time friend (Julianne Moore) – the film follows George through a single day – the day on which he’s decided to kill himself.

The crux of the film (which remains relatively faithful to Isherwood’s novel) concerns George’s existential crisis. In an early scene, he explains through voiceover the process he must go through in order to transform himself into the person he’s expected to be: “From the time I’m dressed, and put the final air of polish on the now slightly stiff, but quite perfect George, I know fully what part I’m supposed to play. Looking in the mirror, staring back at me, isn’t so much a face, as the expression of a predicament.” The title refers not only to George’s status as that of someone who’s lost his lover, but his existential status as just one man. Ford’s motive for bringing the story to the screen, more than 45 years after the novel’s first publishing, becomes clear in a crucial flashback. George, told he cannot attend Jim’s funeral because “he isn’t part of the family,” resonates with the 2008 passing of Prop 8, banning gay marriage in California. Thankfully, though, Ford doesn’t lay the parallels on too thick to degrade his beautifully shot and acted film into a mere political rallying cry.

Firth’s portrayal of George seethes with nuance and grace as he fiercely captures both George’s intellectual certainty and societal disconnect. He deserves the Oscar over Bridges and almost gives 2009’s best performance- second only to Joaquin Phoenix’s criminally underrated turn in Two Lovers. The downside comes from Ford’s inability to convincingly delve into George’s psyche. Though supposedly unearthing 1960’s suburban homophobia through a displaced gay male, the gloss of his aesthetic rarely allows for this: opting for chic shots and photo shoot backdrops undermines George’s crisis. Nevertheless, some of these idiosyncratic choices work (like George staring at other characters’ eyes, as if to ascertain their true being) and Firth, in the best performance of his career, never takes a misstep.

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