If you've ever heard a really, really good country song and wondered what the story was behind it, this movie will give you some idea.
Golden Globe winner Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, an old country singer. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean Craddock, a Santa Fe newspaper writer who interviews and falls in love with Blake.
Bad Blake is 57. He can sing and play guitar, but he's broke and a drunk. He can also write some great songs, but his career is going nowhere.
Instead of playing at the Grand Ole Opry or in Las Vegas, Bad Blake is playing at bowling alleys and crummy bars in the southwest. He stumbles on and off stage, never knowing if he's about to vomit. He sleeps in horrible hotels, watching porn, and drinking himself away.
Bridges gives an amazing performance, which may win him the Oscar that Mickey Rourke deserved last year, but the real star of this movie is a man you never see. His name is T Bone Burnett. T Bone is a Grammy-winning music producer. He created all the songs in this film, which are way more than amazing.
While interviewing Bad Blake, Jean talks about how the old country singer brought gospel into night bars. Listening to T Bone's music, there is definitely a gospel feeling in that his lyrics, his rhythms, vibrate with a spirituality and soul that touches every part of its listener.
Bridges, who performs almost all of Burnett's songs, embodies that soul. There is an emotional honesty, raw emotion, whether it's a hallelujah or a heartbreak that comes through as he's performing. That comes from greatness, not only from the person with the microphone but also the person with the pen.
Colin Farrell co-stars as Tommy Sweet who's comparable to a Brad Paisley, a Billy Currington or a Dierks Bentley-type in terms of popularity. Sweet was a protégé of Bad Blake, but Sweet left Blake and soared becoming extremely more successful.
For example, Blake still rides around in his beat-up 1978 Suburban, while Sweet tours the nation in large, luxurious buses. It's a source of bitterness and jealousy that the student has surprised the mentor.
The bulk of the story results from the repercussions and realizations from Blake's relationship with Jean and her 14-year-old son, Bud, played by Jack Nation who is an adorable little scene-stealer. The film, however, is like The Wrestler (2008) meets Walk the Line (2005).
The derivation of this movie is one that isn't new. A white man who was good at something is older now and not appreciated or successful anymore, and is trying to redeem himself. It's not fresh, but Bridges acting is so heartfelt and the music is so good, you get taken by it, T Bone's "The Weary Kind" in particular.
Jean asks Bad Blake if the blues influences his sound. Blues is, of course, the folk music, originated by African-Americans, that's typically slow and sad, that can be fast and humorous but often has lyrics expressing love loss, hard times, or problems with daily life, alcoholism for example. If there were ever a perfect description of this film, which would probably be it.
Four Stars out of Five
Rated R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.