I was thinking about a couple of the character-driven movies I’d seen recently. But it was not the main figures in Crazy Heart and Mr. 3000 that bothered me. It was the secondary characters, the two female journalists, that caught my attention.
Having some expertise in the journalistic field, I was struck by the possibility that Jean Craddock, in Crazy Heart, and Maureen “Mo” Simmons in Mr. 3000, might be taken seriously, that they might be sublimated far beyond what they were. As journalists, these two characters are flawed and misguided posers. They truck on nothing but their good looks to crawl up a disgusting media ladder to nowhere, a ladder long shaped by style over substance, by opinion over fact, by beauty over brains.
Of the two journalists, Simmons is the lowest of the low. Played by beautiful and brassy Angela Bassett, Simmons is a veteran TV “reporter” for ESPN. She is romantically involved with one of her subjects, Sam Ross. Ross (Bernie Mac) is a baseball has-been trying to make a short comeback with the Milwaukee Brewers. It is a big story for Simmons because Ross is the center of national attention being only three hits away from the magical 3000 Club, a feat he thinks will propel him into the Hall of Fame.
In Crazy Heart, Craddock, played by moony-eyed Maggie Gyllenhaal, is an inept “feature writer” for a newspaper in Santa Fe. She too becomes romantically involved with the subject of a profile she plans to do on another has-been, the country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges). Craddock has the excuse of being new in the business and totally untrained.
The problem with Simmons and Craddock is not that they have affairs with their subjects. That happens often enough and is no great sin. The problem with these two so-called journalists is that their conflicts of interest do not ring a bell, that both continue to go about business as usual with their subjects-lovers. If known, not exactly an atmosphere that breeds the all-important trust of the reader or viewer.
In real life, if discovered, this behavior would be a career-ender. Or it should be. Both would be fired. Such conflicts can be extremely embarrassing to a media outlet. The heads on the periphery, those of editors and producers, may even roll as well. In the real world, Simmons and Craddock would have come clean. They would likely have revealed the conflicts to their bosses, kept the romance going and trotted off with new assignments and perhaps new gold stars pinned to their lapels.
This is the problem with character-driven films. Directors are so focused on the central character, the Bad Blake and the Sam Ross, that they often fail to pay close attention to minor parts. They kiss them off. They get sloppy with reality. And their attempt at plausible story lines falls flatter than flat.
In this way, Crazy Heart and Mr. 3000 are undeserved bad news for journalism.