12 April 2016 | jdesando
Hawke is awesome, the film not so much.
Am I aware that substance abuse is frequent in the entertainment business? Yes. From Ray, Walk the Line, and I See the Light, am I aware that some great artists became great while abusing drugs and alcohol. Yes? Is Born to Be Blue, about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, more of the same? Yes. I just can't believe there is no more to the lives of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Hanks Williams, and Baker than abuse. Apparently, filmmakers believe we are anxious to experience these artists' dark abuse sides. For me, NOT!
Or rather I more prefer to experience their music trajectories and intricacies than their vulnerable abuse sides. Baker, once the premier trumpeter with his West Coast Swing, fell from grace for guess what? Heroin administered by a groupie and almost in plain sight of his wife. As for his next wife (playing both wives is Carmen Ejogo), Jane takes the clichéd role of loving support with little individuality.
Notwithstanding the formulaic nature of Born to Be Blue, Ethan Hawke's performance as Baker is a career high for its depiction of Baker's obsession with music and his poetic, vulnerable side. Never for a moment do we believe he will forsake his calling for pumping gas or Mariachi playing, temporary measures to keep the authorities off his paroled back.
When the film comes to an end, we can be pleased that the usual biopic tragic ending is upended by his continued success in Europe. Just as Baker was reborn in a concert before the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis with the help of drugs, so too did his European gig thrive on the addiction, right to his death. It is gratifying that the filmmakers didn't re-imagine that part and that it at least doesn't follow the usual redemptive path.
Although like me, you may shout "enough" at the drug motif, we can both say we enjoyed getting to know one of the greatest musicians of the last century.
"The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does he have ideas." Miles Davis