Like a sad country song, this movie unfolds slowly and somewhat predictably with a melody that gets under your skin even though you know better. Jeff Bridges completely disappears into the character of Bad Blake, an alocholic, worn down, beat up country star who's been reduced to playing little backwater dives and bowling alleys accompanied by local house bands. True to his name, Bad is a mess: drunk on stage, arrogant towards bartenders and fellow musicians, sick and tired of his own life. When Bad agrees to an interview with Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a young Santa Fe journalist, as a favor to the piano player in his back-up band, things get a little more interesting as he is not only taken with Jean but with her young son Buddy (Jack Nation) as well. Soon Bad is becoming part of a surrogate family he's simply not ready for and his hard drinking ways put everyone to the test. A painful secret from his past with no easy resolution further complicates matters.
Competing for Bad's attention is the shadow cast by his professional competition, country superstar Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a former protege who's far surpassed Bad's former success and now wants his mentor as his opening act on an upcoming tour. There's not much new in this tale of redemption, but the cast and writing are top notch and the country songs are outstanding. Writer/director Scott Cooper establishes an authentic sense of Bad's derelict life, drifting from one crowded, boozy bar to the next while allowing us to enjoy those few cathartic moments on stage when the music makes the whole messy world briefly disappear. The film has a very realistic, if not particularly fresh, approach to Bad's alcoholic free fall and his awkward attempts to connect with Jean and Buddy. Farrell brings charisma to the part of Sweet with surprisingly effective country vocals plus a believable, conflicted rapport with Bridges. Robert Duvall makes his usual crusty but wise appearance as an old school friend of Bad's who offers support, along with some wobbly singing. It's easy to see why Bridges has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. Despite glimpses of kindness and sorrow beneath his reckless exterior, the character of Bad Blake was not an especially appealing one for me, but there's no denying the amazing performance by Bridges.
Things to love about this movie: Good chemistry between Bridges and Gyllenhaal; excellent music and performances
Things to hate about this movie: Nation is annoying as Buddy; a few too many scenes of Bad barfing in hotel rooms (once is enough, we get it already); rather predictable plot
Pleasant surprises: Colin Farrell does a great job singing (and speaking) like a country western star; Jeff Bridges acquits himself nicely with excellent vocals and guitar; no tidy ending
Unpleasant surprises: Robert Duval's singing leaves much to be desired in this film; I would have liked a little screen time for Colin Farrell