Short Takes 


Longtime actor Scott Cooper's first directorial venture makes no attempt at innovation, yet it ultimately succeeds far more than many films with loftier ambitions. That's because Cooper's film serves as a sterling showcase for Jeff Bridges, a master at reshaping familiar figures into singular characters. Bridges' latest triumph is grizzled former country star Bad Blake, a storytelling wizard and musical maverick who's spent nearly 40 years on the road. Now on the downside of a major career, he composes tunes in flophouse rooms and spends more time turning up shot glasses than hits. That changes after an encounter in Santa Fe with a single mother/journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who sees past the demons that always threaten any possible long-term happiness he might achieve. Indeed, it's her desire to trust Blake in spite of her doubts that eventually leads to trouble.

Bridges perfectly conveys Blake's innate goodness and simmering anger. He also captures the troubadour mentality that keeps performers plugging away years after they've disappeared from the charts, long since replaced by the likes of his former protege turned superstar Tommy Sweet (a superb performance from Colin Farrell). While random women seem drawn to Blake despite his penchant for lewd, drunken behavior, his few real friends never desert him, especially a longtime comrade and bar owner (played by Robert Duvall with rugged aplomb).

While writer-director Cooper has publicly downplayed inevitable comparisons to Tender Mercies, the 1983 honky-tonk chamber piece that earned Oscars for Duvall and Horton Foote's original screenplay, he's certainly been equally faithful to that tale's working-class musical and acting virtues. T-Bone Burnett, the late Stephen Bruton and Ryan Bingham (who also has a cameo role and sings the climatic theme song) compiled excellent traditional country music for the soundtrack that enlivens and anchors the production, and Bridges sings and plays in a loose, fluid manner that further buttresses his portrayal. (Opens Friday)   RON WYNN


During the regime of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, every Romanian typewriter had to be registered with the state so that every irregularity of alignment or letter could allow for an easier means of tracing "seditious" literature back to its source. Suffice to say, Romania has had a contentious relationship with words for some time. Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective is a film that concerns itself with language — not so much with the expansive vision of Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein or the apocalyptic genius of last year's too-little-seen Pontypool, but in the manner of a teacher aiming to drill rhetorical methods into someone's head.

That's the approach taken by Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov), the police chief for the Romanian town of Vaslui, who sets the ways and means by which his team operates. The young inspector Cristi (Dragos Bucur) tails a youth involved in smoking pot with a few associates. Cristi thinks it's a nothing offense, but the higher-ups want results. Not wanting to ruin the kid's life, Cristi must maintain two simultaneous operations — reporting the suspect's behavior, while trying to shield him from the wrath of their sting operation.

If this were an American procedural, the rogue cop would save the day and the chief would get taken down a notch. But here we have a different kind of animal. Coming out of the fall of communism and the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime, we instead have an environment where the willfulness of the individual can impede any action, and a judgment call from one step higher in the process can derail a life for seven years.

Porumboiu shares an intrinsic distrust of bureaucracy with the other two breakout Romanian films to get recent U.S. attention, 2005's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 2007's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (in which Ivanov made a jarring impression as a black-market abortionist) Each of those films finds seemingly everyone adopting a "me first" approach to life, regardless of their position on the totem pole. Altruism is often callously slagged as "communist," only here it is literally a comparison made by those who understand what that statement really means. When freed from obligation to their fellow man, all ties and bets are off.

It is a bleak place, and Porumboiu lays things out for us in keeping. Landscapes blend, office hallways recede into infinity, and a viewer longs for a splash of vibrance or hope. But Porumboiu's film has a cold, cumulative force. It draws its strength from the serrated edges of its absolutes: of language, of law, of hierarchy, of helplessness. In Romanian with subtitles. (Opens Friday at The Belcourt) — JASON SHAWHAN



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