The story of Bad Blake may not be the most original, but it is worth seeing because it still manages to be unpredictable at times. Bad is country singer who can only get gigs at bowling alleys and his best friend’s bar, but he takes everything he can get. He drinks more than he should, especially during his performances. He has no personal ambition until he meets Jean, a younger reporter living in Texas. She is different from the other women in his life. Simply, she’s not a groupie hillbilly who just wants to sleep with him for the story.
I repeat, this is a familiar story but what makes this worthwhile are all of the little things. In these types of character studies, usually only the main character are fully fledged, but this world felt richer. They never spelled out what happened with Jane’s first marriage, but from her actions and some nuances clues are apparent. None of the characters are simply archetypes only there to serve Bad’s arc. His protégé could have easily been a clichéd antagonist who doesn’t “get” the music. Instead you can understand why there was a falling out between these two artists, but it was comforting to see nothing was intentional.
It wasn’t just the secondary characters either, but even smaller things amused me. The writer/director, Scott Cooper, had a nice eye for detail. I liked the throwaway images of Bad’s cowboy had on an empty mic-stand. I liked Bad absent-mindedly play with the lock on the hotel door that doesn’t work. These could be taken as symbolic devices, but they worked because they didn’t have to be. The character and the movie are allowed to breathe for a few beats. Too many character studies race to each beat; the worst sprinters are usually biopics that try too desperately tell an entire life in a few hours.
As with any movies about artists, the art plays a major part in the story. If Bad’s music wasn’t any good then the entire movie changes. Then it isn’t about someone who needs one more chance, but about someone who needs to find a new job. I wouldn’t like this album if it wasn’t for the movie, I think. It’s like the movie Once; there is so much emotion behind the tracks because we know where the character was at that moment. They aren’t just songs, but Bad’s viewpoint at that moment.
The character of Bad is one worth following. Despite being in an undesirable state, he still has charisma and intelligence. This movie is not about the world giving him another chance, but him beginning to test his own limits in his life. The conclusions are satisfying but never profound enough to affect you months later.