Thursday, August 4, 2016

[Review] Born to Be Blue

One of two fictional renditions from this year about a famous jazz trumpeter (the other being Miles Ahead), Born to Be Blue sees Ethan Hawke playing the "Prince of Cool" Chet Baker.

It's 1966--about a decade after the heyday musical career of Chet Baker (Hawke, soft spoken and donning gapped teeth) and in the heat of his decline. The film covers the artist's intense heroin addiction, his money problems and run-ins with drug dealers, and his steamy relationship with a supportive woman named Jane (Carmen Ejogo)--all while he attempts to mount a comeback.

Ethan Hawke is impressively melancholy and vulnerable here--he plays it like a finely tuned mess of someone who just can't get it together. Carmen Ejogo is exceptional too, and the pair displays some convincing chemistry. The picture is remarkably well-shot and framed, dwelling in an old-fashioned layer of sepia tone, interspersed with smokey black & white flashbacks scenes. During a tremendously awkward stay at Chet's parents' home in Oklahoma, the initially confined world unfolds to pretty views of wide open, natural-lit scenery of countrysides under skies of fluffy billowing clouds. And of course, all of this is backed with a terrific jazz soundtrack--as it should be.

The film moves at a patient rhythm, almost too patient. And the story wanders mellowly without a major key to any direction or build, which is often the case with music biopics. Despite the pacing issues, Born to Be Blue is still a well-performed and fairly rich portrait of a brilliant musician troubled by an all-too-common addiction.

( 7/10 )

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