Jeff Bridges’ nearly forty-year acting career in Hollywood has earned him four Academy Award nominations, but it is his latest film, Crazy Heart, that could easily become the actor’s first win. With such an impressive career, however, Bridges is more often associated with The Big Lebowski and his iconic portrayal of The Dude.
Since its 1998 release, The Big Lebowski has become more than just a cult-classic; it has inspired its own themed festivals and its main character has spawned offbeat, pseudo-religious groups who live their lives according to The Dude’s philosophies.
The Dude — who is a fiend for bowling, Creedence Clearwater Revival, marijuana and white Russians — has become so infamous that he has eclipsed a great deal of Bridges’ other performances to the point where the character is more well-known than the actor who portrays him.
Crazy Heart is likely to change all of that.
In his latest film, Bridges portrays Bad Blake, a country singer with a drinking problem, four ex-wives and a reputation as an old man. Blake only plays bowling alleys, small reception halls and bars while his one-time pupil rises to stardom in the world of contemporary country music that Blake so bitterly defies.
Bad Blake is a good ol’ boy, like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt or Waylon Jennings, who writes songs about life and how it has devastated and shaped him. Once famous himself, years of hard drinking and the overall evolution of country music — from rebel musicians to pre-Madonna superstars — has left Blake haunting bars because he does not belong anywhere else.
The character has a weariness about him that personifies an entire era of country music. Blake’s life is, in fact, an old country song in itself, filled with desolation and sorrow where drowning in alcohol is the only solution.
Propelling himself along with the blatant cowboy lifestyle — which so many real musicians personally called their own — Blake does so much more than showcase a theme or a style. Blake is literally the mythology that is country western music.
It is the despondency that surrounds Blake that makes him so intriguing. At no point in his career has Bridges ever been a stranger to this weariness, and that makes the role of Blake even more suitable for him.
Since the actor’s 1971 Academy Award-nominated performance for his first film, The Last Picture Show, Bridges has shown an ambition that can rarely be matched by most American actors, and the brilliant thing about Bridges’ abilities comes from the fact that he is able to relay anguish or harsh content with such ease. Every performance resonates as nothing less than natural.
Whether it is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, The Fisher King, The Contender or even The Big Lebowski, each of his characters are immensely complicated but are presented to the audience in the form of a relatable friend they always knew they had.
Everyone loves The Dude — it is very hard not to — but this affection for what modern society would consider a deadbeat is a result of Bridges’ charm more so than the fictional character’s attitude. The mythology of The Dude, in fact, belongs to Bridges, for whom the Coen brothers specifically wrote the part.
The ambition and charm that Bridges has become so well known for is what made The Dude so unique, an attitude which he has embodied since his first film and now brings to Crazy Heart.
Jeff Bridges has learned to transform himself into his characters by simply being himself. More so than any of his previous characters, Bridges’ conception of Bad Blake most clearly showcases this ability and distinguishes him from other actors. He uses his charm to portray the weary kind of man that he certainly is not, and it takes nearly a forty-year career in Hollywood to allow an actor the ability to dramatize himself as someone so distantly unlike himself.
The Dude, as wonderful as he is, does not have the power behind him that Bad Blake does. Blake resonates the perfection Bridges has been developing over his entire career and how Jeff Bridges’ charm will never go to waste, even on a character who has wasted away almost all of his redeeming qualities.
Bridges has always seemed to be in his prime, and Crazy Heart further reiterates this as Bridges both sings and acts in the film. And each time he belts out one of Blake’s withstanding classics — especially “The Weary Kind” — you can tell Jeff Bridges still has a long career ahead of him.