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Movie reviews: 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' and 'Crazy Heart'

Jeff Bridges attains his own kind of transcendence in "Crazy Heart," a movie more modest in scale and ambition than "Imaginarium," but of similar sensitivity and taste.

Bridges plays the once legendary singer-songwriter Bad Blake, now relegated to the bowling alley, hole-in-the-wall circuit. Out of shape, on the wrong side of 50, drinking heavily and encrusted with the dust of too many hard roads, Bad at one point has to leave the stage to go throw up in a garbage can.

Watching Bridges croon and carouse his way through "Crazy Heart" is to witness something of a capstone to one of Hollywood's most enduring careers. Bridges is that rare actor who seems to have effortlessly navigated his own hard road from kid actor to cute leading man to grizzled character actor. "Crazy Heart" calls on all those powers, including the shambling, squinty-eyed comedic gifts he's honed in films from "The Big Lebowski" to the recent "The Men Who Stare at Goats."

Indeed, Bridges, now 60, seems to have crafted the kind of career Ledger seemed to be aspiring to before he died, as he took on roles that de-emphasized his blond good looks and instead exploited his willingness to go out on physical and behavioral limbs. Like Ledger, Bridges also appeared in a Terry Gilliam movie, the 2005 Gothic grotesquerie "Tideland," in which his character not only died but was inexpertly embalmed by his 11-year-old daughter. Happily, Bad doesn't have to be embalmed to achieve immortality; he finds it through the redemptive and purifying power of art.

Fans of musicians like Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Doug Sahm will want to see "Crazy Heart" if only to see Bridges uncannily channel those cats (the fabulous original songs were mostly written by T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton). And Oscar poolers are advised to catch up with the movie to see a performance Bridges may well finally win the award for, after being nominated four times. But the film is notable, too, as a promising debut from writer-director Scott Cooper, who has adapted Thomas Cobb's novel with an acute eye, pitch-perfect ear and feel for behavior that seems spontaneous and true.

In yet another "Imaginarium" coincidence, Colin Farrell shows up in "Crazy Heart," again in a modestly heroic supporting performance. But it's Bridges who takes the stage and, whatever state his character is in, dominates it. Flawed and funny, impenetrable and vulnerable, gifted and damnably self-destructive, Bridges's bad boy rings true, note for soulful note -- not only as an authentic character, but as that rare fictional creation an actor seems born to inhabit.

As exciting as it is to see filmmakers and actors experiment with second life, there's still nothing better than a triumphant and well-deserved second act.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

* * *

(122 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violent images, sensuality, profanity and smoking.

Crazy Heart

* * *

(111 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema, Bethesda Row and AMC Loews Georgetown) is rated R for profanity and brief sexuality.

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