The Films of Scott Cooper
Erstwhile actor Scott Cooper's directorial debut, Crazy Heart follows grizzled country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) as he falls for a thirtysomething reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal's Jean Craddock) and enlists a former protégé (Colin Farrell's Tommy Sweet) in his efforts at mounting a comeback. It's clear right from the get-go that Crazy Heart benefits substantially from Bridges' justifiably lauded work, as the actor slips into the skin of this seriously unlikable character with an ease that's nothing short of staggering - thus ensuring that one is initially drawn into the non-existent storyline based solely on the promise of Bridges' Oscar-winning performance. There's little doubt, then, that it's the slow-paced and almost egregiously uneventful nature of Cooper's screenplay that ultimately prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to the material, with the relatively amiable atmosphere eventually giving way to an emphasis on curiously hackneyed elements (ie Bad loses Jean's young son while on an outing) - which ensures that the movie runs out of steam long before the credits roll. The final result is an aggressively uneven piece of work that would hardly be worth mentioning were it not for the efforts of Bridges and his stellar cast mates, although - to be fair - it's difficult not to admire the authenticity with which Cooper has hard-wired the proceedings.
Out of the Furnace
Out of the Furnace details the comings and goings of several low-key, blue-collar Pennsylvania-based characters, with the narrative eventually following one such figure, Christian Bale's Russell Baze, as he attempts to track down his wayward brother (Casey Affleck's Rodney). It's ultimately clear that Out of the Furnace fares best in its engrossing first half, as filmmaker Scott Cooper initially offers up an unpredictable narrative that keeps the viewer guessing at almost every turn - with the writer/director's emphasis on the exploits of various periphery figures perpetuating the movie's appealingly nonconventional atmosphere. The gritty, intense vibe is, for the most part, heightened by the efforts of a stellar supporting cast that includes Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, and Woody Harrelson, with, in particular, the latter turning in an especially engrossing performance as the film's short-tempered and prone-to-violence central antagonist. And although Cooper has littered the proceedings with several engaging sequences (eg an unexpectedly emotional moment between Baze and Zoe Saldana's Lena Taylor), Out of the Furnace, once it passes a certain point, adopts an increasingly straight-forward feel that proves to be far less compelling or interesting than that which came before - with the less-than-surprising atmosphere diminishing the impact of the movie's admittedly striking final stretch. It's finally clear that Cooper, between this and Crazy Heart, possesses a great deal of promise as an up-and-coming director, and yet it's equally obvious that the filmmaker remains unable to craft a narrative that's as well-defined as the atmosphere and performances within his endeavors.