Movies: Crazy Heart * * * *
Jeff Bridges is the bookies' favourite to win Best Actor at this year's Oscars, and you won't be very far into Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart before you realise why.
Bridges plays a country singer called Bad Blake, and does such a convincing job of it that you almost instantly forget this is a performance.
Blake has seen better days: he used to be a big shot on the country scene, but now he's all but forgotten and scrapes a living touring the dive bars and bowling alleys of the southwestern United States.
He has a bit of a drink problem too, and looks like a cross between Kris Kristofferson and 'The Dude' from The Big Lebowski if he'd continued the way he was going.
Bad has a string of ex-wives and a son he hasn't seen in over 20 years, but in reality his only close friends are his long-suffering agent, and an old fishing buddy from way back called Wayne (Robert Duvall).
Bad restricts his relations with the fair sex to meaningless one-night stands, and spends most of his quality time at the bottom of a bottle. In his cups, he tends to become bitter about a younger singer called Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), whom he once mentored and has now far outstripped him in terms of success.
But Blake begins to reassess all of this when he meets a young journalist called Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
The singer agrees to be interviewed by her as a favour to one of his musicians, then finds she has a frankness that forces him to drop his usual crusty routine.
Despite their considerable age difference, they hit it off, and Jean eventually decides to take the risk of introducing Bad to her young son.
But Jean has been badly hurt by men before, and Blake's prodigious whiskey intake does not bode well for the future.
In ways, Crazy Heart is pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, and might even be the plot of a bad country and western song. But the film is lifted beyond the ordinary by an utterly committed and compelling performance from Bridges, who disappears into his character completely and shows a reckless disregard for his own dignity.
His singing is very good too, and T-Bone Burnett's songs add a further touch of authenticity.