As powerful and emotionally evocative as its message of hopeless struggle is, Darren Aronofsky’s gritty character study that epitomizes “The Wrestler” ends too ambiguously to provoke any change in its audience. Despite Mickey Rourke’s standout performance, this lack of resolution feels rather hollow and trite, considering that the same despairing, inconsequential endings are reworked time and time again in an increasingly cynical society. But now, a year later, debut director Scott Cooper has set out to prove that not all lost souls are fated to perpetual wandering.

“Crazy Heart”

At the Michigan
Fox Searchlight

Part contemporary road film and part musical, “Crazy Heart” invites us to walk a mile in the boots of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges, “The Big Lebowski”), a folk artist whose pitiable state pales in comparison to his former glory. Blake is a stereotypical failed musician; living in the shadow of his former protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, “Pride and Glory”), he continually struggles to make a respectable living and to forge meaningful relationships despite the rootless nature of a life on the road.

Even at first glance, the parallels between “Crazy Heart” and Aronofsky’s low-budget gem “The Wrestler” are evident. Washout Blake (who hasn’t yet realized he’s a washout) finds his true love Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Dark Knight”) and subsequently endures a series of unfortunate trials. Like Rourke’s Randy “the Ram” Robinson, Blake is estranged from what little remaining family he has, and his doctor heckles him for his poor lifestyle choices. Essentially, he’s faced with many of the same difficult life decisions that determined the Ram’s fate in “The Wrestler.”

In contrast to the Ram, Blake’s genuine nature is far more relevant to his story, and he makes sensible choices based on the hard lessons he learns. Though the story’s resolution may not seem ideal, it certainly doesn’t lambaste the possibility of reformation. And no one can dispute the effectiveness of folk music as a presentation format — Blake’s crooning lamentations, ample belly, choice liquor and portable plastic chamber pot are far more endearing than the Ram and his constant presence in strip clubs and tanning salons.

Make no mistake; “The Wrestler” and its unlikely protagonist are formidable predecessors to Blake and his meandering quest for identity. But the methods of the former exaggerate things too much to retain plausibility, and (like Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”) the feeling of manipulation one gets after watching it is more akin to the ignorant propaganda of a D.A.R.E. commercial than a realistic character piece. “Crazy Heart” expounds on the concepts of isolation and self-destruction in ways that a mainstream audience can more easily relate to, and that certainly represents a marked improvement.

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