The acting is good across the board, in spite of writing that lurches between motivations and tempos like a car dropping out of gear. By that measure, it's not Jeff Bridges, the presumptive Best Actor winner, who does the most impressive work.
It's Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose character is supposed to seem like she's searching for something or damaged in some way, but is merely underwritten. I got no sense of who Jean is, what she likes, why she wants to interview Bad Blake to begin with, and ordinarily I prefer that movies not spell out every motivation or Freudian overtone. Here, there's just not much to spell out in the first place. Well, except that Jean has an Only-In-The-Movies-adorable lispy son the same age Blake's was when Blake bolted, and you can bet that came through in 128-point font. That Gyllenhaal got this sketch in shape for a Best Supporting nod is a meaner feat than it might sound like, although I don't see her winning.
Honorable mention should go to Colin Farrell, struggling against a dated ponytail to make tough material interesting. The Tommy Sweet character could really have gone somewhere if the dialogue written for him weren't so moldy. It's telling that the best snapshot of that relationship is Sweet's appearance onstage during Blake's set; so much passes between the two actors when they can just sing, and not get bogged down with unconvincing lines that try to cram the history of the relationship into a single meeting.
This is not to say that Bridges isn't excellent; he is (that scene in particular is what will win him the statue). So is his hair, still ducktailing perfectly together in the back after all these years. The performance feels comfortable, and he doesn't go too far with the drunk mannerisms. But the role is better written than the others, for starters, and although the movie wants us to see the character as pathetic in spite of his still-formidable talent and magnetism, the problem is, it's still Jeff Bridges in there. I'd knock any of you down to make out with that guy, I don't care if he's got a barf loogey in his sideburn, so you can't really say he disappears into the role.
It sounds like I hated the movie, and I didn't; I just wanted to like it much more than I did, and it had a lot of problems with its internal rhythms that may stem from the source material, but still took me out of the story a few times. And that coda, uch — a total over-close, the whole thing.
Not everyone gets annoyed by that process stuff, though, and even I didn't get annoyed until halfway through; the acting absolutely carries it, and it's the dictionary definition of rising above the material.
Sarah 40, Death Race 18; 10 of 24 categories completed
Tags: bored now Colin Farrell famous boyfriends Jeff Bridges Maggie Gyllenhaal movies Oscars 2010 Death Race