Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tender Mercies vs. Crazy Heart

I watched the acclaimed 2009 film Crazy Heart a couple of weeks ago and as it unfolded I couldn't help but think to myself that this sure seems a lot like the 1983 film Tender Mercies. I got Tender Mercies from Netflix a few days later and re-watched it and the films are so similar in story that Crazy Heart could be considered as kind of a loose remake, or reinterpretation, of all the same themes and story points in Tender Mercies. Let's look at a few.
  1. Jeff Bridges delivers a terrific performance as a boozy, one time country music star Bad Blake in Crazy Heart; Robert Duvall wins an Oscar for best actor in 1983 for his performance as Mac Sledge, a boozy, one time country music star in Tender Mercies.
  2. The male leads in both films meet solid, stable women who are characters trying to redeem them, to offer them a second (or fifth, or more) chance at love. 
  3. The women in both films have sons, close to the same age, and they bond with the new men in their mother's live.
  4. Both Bad Blake and Mac have estranged children they have no real relationship with. 
  5. Did I mention they are washed up country singers who have a problem with the drink?
  6. Robert Duvall is not only in both films, he produced both films as well.
  7. Being interviewed by a journalist features prominently in both films. In Crazy Heart, it's how Bad Blake meets the woman he falls for; in Tender Mercies, it's how Mac Sledge gets back in touch with ex-wife and daughter.
  8. Both singers are forced to play concerts with younger musicians as the back-up band. These scenes feature prominently in both films.
  9. Country songs are featured in both films--often entire songs are sung from the stage.
  10. Both Bad Blake and Mac Sledge are shown writing songs alone and then letting other people have the songs to record in an attempt to get money into their thin bank accounts.
Are ten things enough to prove the connection? Maybe I'm missing something but I've rarely even seen any mention of Tender Mercies when people are talking about Crazy Heart. It is as clear as day that the latter is at the very least, extremely influenced by Tender Mercies

I think Tender Mercies is the better of the two films. It's less of a show-off in its lead role and has a simple, direct, honest quality to it that has drawn me back to watch it four times. Crazy Heart is flawed after the first hour and the ending is flat out awful. Tender Mercies vs. Crazy Heart? I'll take Tender Mercies over its inferior copycat. 


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You've nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. I like Duval's understated approach to his role (e.g. no puking) and he wrote his own songs. Imagine if he'd had T-Bone Burnett to work with. Now that I think about it, Crazy Heart is like Tender Mercies hybridized with It's Complicated, and it came out a little too slick. I couldn't find the sound track on iTunes though. Anyway, good analysis, it's nice to know there are folks out there that are paying attention.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I had exactly this conversation after we finished watching Crazy Heart last night. You've hit it dead on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I thought I was the only one who noticed. And I agree, both performances are great, but TM is the better movie.

McShowoff said...

Thank you! I couldn't agree more. I just watched Crazy Heart and was vastly disappointed and also proven right in my assumption that it was going to be a bad recycling of Tender Mercies. This was so full of cliches and on-the-nose diaologue, I was bored throughout the entire predictable journey. Tender Mercies was so much better.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Makes me good somehow when other people agree with me on this one. Tender Mercies all the way!

Jason Harrod said...

Yes. Jeff Bridges tried too hard, Maggie G looked too smug, and I didn't forget for a moment that I was in a theater watching actors deliver lines. I got a sense that everyone involved with CH fooled themselves into believing it was a truly remarkable piece of work, when in fact it was derivative and full of cliches. How strange (and yet, perhaps not) that Duvall was one of the producers on this.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. I hadn't seen Crazy Heart when I thought to myself "didn't Duvall make that already?" I finally rented the Bridges film, and it's ok, but I think TM is the stronger film. It's quieter--the long silences today's films can't quite afford--but speaks volumes in those gaps. CH was a good film, but I prefer the original.