By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire December 17, 2009 at 4:38AM
"'Crazy Heart,' written and directed by Scott Cooper, is a small movie perfectly scaled to the big performance at its center. It offers some picturesque views of out-of-the-way parts of the American West, but the dominant feature of its landscape is Bad Blake, a wayward, aging country singer played by Jeff Bridges. Those last four words should be sufficient recommendation," says A.O. Scott of the New York Times. He concludes, reinforcing his praise for Mr. Bridges, "When Robert Duvall (a producer of 'Crazy Heart') turns up as one of Bad’s old friends, you might also remember Mac Sledge, the Bad Blake figure he played in Bruce Beresford’s 1983 film, “Tender Mercies.” Mr. Cooper’s movie owes an obvious debt to that one, but there can never be too many songs about drinking, loving and feeling bad, and there is always room for another version of that old song about the guy who messed it all up and kept on going. Especially when that guy can play the tune as truly and as well as Mr. Bridges." Peter Travers, in Rolling Stone, agrees, saying, "Has there ever been a movie about a country singer who isn't having a meltdown? The good news is that Cooper, an actor himself, shows a keen eye for authentic detail and an instinct for bringing out the best in the cast."
Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal thinks it's a fine small film. "'Crazy Heart" is blessed with so many marvelous moments, lovely lines and vivid characters that it's hard to know where to begin, but let's start with an encounter in a tacky Santa Fe motel room. Bad Blake, a ruined legend of a country musician played by Jeff Bridges, is being interviewed by Maggie Gyllenhaal's Jean, a single mother who writes about music for a local newspaper. When she asks what he wants to talk about, he looks into her radiant face and replies, in a booze-fraught baritone, 'I want to talk about how bad you make this room look.' Well, I want to talk about how bad this debut feature makes most of the past movie year look. It was written and directed by Scott Cooper (he adapted the script from a novel by Thomas Cobb) with an unerring instinct for intimacy and a flawless sense of proportion, whether in the big moments or the small ones. It's a conventional film—that newspaper interview is only one of several well-worn plot devices—but one that wears its conventions gracefully."
Kenneth Turan in the L.A. Times notices two men central to the film's production, "No Jeff Bridges performance, however, ends up looking anything like familiar. With dozens of roles -- as well as four Oscar nominations (a fifth for this one is a lock) -- behind him in a nearly 40-year career, he has a deep understanding that great acting is not self-conscious but a result of seamless transformation into someone else...Filmmaker Cooper, who displays a relaxed directorial style, is a lifelong fan of country music. He'd initially wanted to do a film about Merle Haggard but then came across the Thomas Cobb novel his script is based on. Inevitably, some of the story has a familiar and formulaic feel, like something we've seen before, but at key points 'Crazy Heart' displays a welcome integrity and resists choosing the easiest paths."
On Salon, Stephanie Zacharek gives Cooper the highest compliment, "the movie offers a simple, unadorned landscape for actors to live in, and watching it, I was struck by how few filmmakers today, even when they're working with extremely small budgets, are willing to risk that kind of simplicity: For one thing, so many pictures of modest means (not to mention expensive ones) make a feature of their noticeably hand-held camerawork; sometimes it seems that young filmmakers believe the camera has to be moving every minute, lest the audience get bored and walk away. The hand-held camera isn't an evil by itself. But the fact that I can't remember noticing the vagaries (if there were any) of the camera movement in 'Crazy Heart' says something about Cooper's approach to working with actors. Because they're what I remember most about 'Crazy Heart.'"
Slant Magazine's Nick Schager, while glowing over Daniels, is less enthusiastic about the film as a whole, "Ultimately, though, this is simply a showcase for Jeff Bridges, and a reasonably decent one at that even when the script thrusts Bad down tediously hackneyed roads. With a scraggly gray goatee, a shirt constantly unbuttoned to reveal his ballooning paunch, and a gait that suggests decades spent imbibing his favorite whiskey and smokes, Bad is a jalopy of a man both physically and emotionally."