Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist Chet Baker, combining the achingly soulful music with an equally resonant performance from Ethan Hawke. Sometimes, the film's artistic flourishes seem to strain to cover up the usual narrative of a musical artist's life. But Baker's story has a striking emotional layer to it that holds the attention. And by focussing on a pivotal period in his life, Budreau draws out some lovely themes.
It opens in 1966 Los Angeles, where Chet is starring in a movie about his life. One actress, Jane (Carmen Ejogo), is playing all of the women he loved, and of course he's now pursuing her as well. There's also the problem that he's not quite sure if he's still a heroin junkie or if he's just playing himself when he was one. Then he gets in a street fight in which thugs knock out his front teeth, and everyone tells him he will never play his trumpet again. But he tenaciously sets out to regain his embouchure, even as his parole officer (Tony Nappo) refuses to give him a break. He decides to take Jane to visit his parents (Stephen McHattie and Janet-Laine Green) back home in Oklahoma, and rebuild his life from there. Then back in California, he approaches his music producer friend Dick (Callum Keith Rennie) to help him make a comeback.
Hawke brings a terrific earthy charm to the role, conveying Baker's effortless musical gifts as well as his inner steeliness in the face of injury and addiction. The darker sides of Baker's personality simmer in the background, increasing his allure. And Ejogo is terrific opposite him. Jane is a woman who sees everything that Baker is, and she knows that she has limits to what she will let him get away with. It's easy for the audience to root for them to succeed as a couple, even though every other musical biopic has told us that a happy ever after probably isn't on the cards.
Continue reading: Born To Be Blue Review
When Chet Baker first made a real name for himself in the music industry he was labelled as 'The James Dean of Jazz', he was cool and everyone wanted a piece of him. The trumpeter from California soon became the next big sensation and played clubs all around the US. Ten years on, Baker had developed a heroin addiction, had been incarcerated for drug possession in Italy and he was far from the high life he was living years earlier.
When Baker was asked to star in a film about himself, it implanted ideas of a comeback, a new shot at glory, that accompanied by a new romance with his co-star spurted Baker into recording a new album. Whilst battling addiction, we see Baker at one of the most crucial times of his life.
Born To Be Blue is an anti-biography, it's based on the life of Baker but whilst the actual film Baker was making in the 1960's (with producer Dino de Laurentiis) didn't come to light, Robert Budreau's version of events sees Baker's film be made, a decision he made to help show the true 'improvisational nature of jazz'.
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