A honky-tonk version of “The Wrestler,” writer/director Scott Cooper’s feature film debut features a stellar performance by lead actor Jeff Bridges.
Hard living has taken its toll on 57-year-old country/western singer Bad Blake (Bridges), a cross between Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. He’s been reduced to playing in bowling alleys where, because of his reputation, he’s not allowed to run a bar tab. But, heck, he can bowl all he wants. Bad is broke and his agent Jack (Paul Herman) does what he can to set up gigs. Protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) has surpassed Bad professionally.
While in Santa Fe, N.M., to play a saloon, Bad meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who wants an interview, a film device that allows the audience to learn about Bad.
Jean and Bad hit it off and begin a relationship. Meanwhile, Tommy has arranged an opening slot for Bad on his tour stop in Phoenix. He also offers Bad a sizable sum to write some new songs for him. Bad is a hit with Tommy’s crowd, but on the way back to Santa Fe to see Jean and her son Buddy (Jack Nation), Bad falls asleep and flips his vehicle.
With a broken ankle, a concussion and doctor’s orders to quit drinking and smoking, Bad finds himself laid up at Jean’s place, facing a golden opportunity to concentrate on songwriting. But watching Jean’s interactions with Buddy remind him of his own grown son. Back home in Houston, he calls on his son, Steven (Brian Gleason), who, as you might have guessed, doesn’t want anything to do with him. A visit from Jean and Buddy ends disastrously when Bad momentarily loses the boy in a mall after stopping at a bar.
The ensuing post-visit bender leads to a stint in rehab, and then Bad, now going by his given name Otis, shows up on Jean’s doorstep to show he’s reformed, but she turns him away. In Houston again, Otis continues to put his house in order, literally. And he begins writing new songs. Bridges is at his best here and deserves the raves he’s been getting.