Let’s get lost on all sorts of drugs and fun.
Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke), at an early stage in his life at least, truly was someone to love and behold. His records were selling like crazy, people wanted to meet him, be him, women loved him, and yes, he was even getting film-roles. But that all seemed to change one day when, all of a sudden, he gets his ass beaten within an inch of his life, taking out his teeth and vowing to never let him play again. Why did this happen? Well, let’s just say that Chet always had problems with drugs and money, and those that beat him up, had a good reason for it. But still, Chet is trying to make something out of this misfortune, whether it’s still continuing to record and play, or start a family with actress girlfriend Jane (Carmen Ejogo). No matter what though, no matter how hard he tries, or where he goes, Chet’s demons always follow him and it’s one of the main reasons why he’s stayed so far away from the mainstream.
Rather than being your ordinary, conventional biopic of a music-legend, Born to be Blue changes things up slightly. What writer/director Robert Budreau does here with the Chet Baker story is that he takes a part of the man’s life and films it for all of the world to see. By doing this, Budreau allows for us to see all that we need to see, or what we need to know about Baker, by highlighting this time in his life where he seemingly had it all, and then lost it all, in a matter of seconds.
Recording studios? What are they?!?
Does it really change the format a whole lot? Not really, but it’s a nice little change-of-pace for a genre that can get so old and tiring when it isn’t paying attention.
That said, Born to be Blue does a nice job at giving us the small details about Baker, his life, his personality, and his issues, that make us feel like we are actually getting to know him underneath all of the sweet-ass playing-skills. So often do biopics of these nature forget that one of the main reasons why people care so much to see these flicks in the first place, isn’t just to see an actor fake-playing an instrument or whatever, but actually getting a chance to see the heart and soul of said person. Here, Chet Baker is shown, warts and all, no apologies whatsoever, but that’s fine.
In a way, it makes the movie better, if a tad gloomy. Just when we think that life is going to turn out perfectly fine for Chet at this time in his life, little do we know that, right around the bend, is something tragic, sad, or depressing that’s going to turn him back to his old, evil ways. It’s quite upsetting really, because we get to see Baker as a sympathetic person all throughout, so that when he does turn that corner and begin to not just hurt himself, but those around him that love and support every little thing that he does, it hits even harder.
It’s meant to, because the rest of Born to be Blue depends on Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker and well, as you could have guessed it, he’s pretty great in the role. As usual for Hawke, he gets a chance to play it small, quiet and subtle as Baker, never fully lashing out into hysterics to show his pain, but still getting plenty of other chances to do so. We understand and we hear just how talented and great Baker is, but the tortured soul that lies somewhere in between it all, is seen through Hawke’s wonderful performance, showing more sides and dimensions to a person that deserves plenty of them.
Match made in jazz hell.
Then again, it’s not entirely his movie, which is what makes Born to be Blue something special.
As Jane, a failing actress looking for that last glimmer of hope and fame, Carmen Ejogo is perfect, because she brings a lot of pleasantness and sweetness to a movie that sometimes forgets all about that. Her character is so interesting in her own right that she could have probably gotten her own movie, but as is, she serves as a solid counterpart to Baker’s sometimes outlandish ways, while giving us someone who loves and understands him exactly for who, or better yet, what he is. It helps that they have great chemistry, too, but really, it’s Ejogo who steals the movie from Hawke and everyone else.
Which is to say that the movie is good, if not great. The performances definitely help it, but it’s also quite limited in its scope and its affect, mostly because it still sets out to tell Baker’s story. While it’s effective at doing that, the emotional-connection that’s supposed to be felt, never quite comes through. Some of this could be chalked up to the fact that the movie is quite stand-offish when it comes to portraying Baker’s day-to-day interactions with the people around him, but it also comes down to the fact that maybe he was just such a mystery, in the way he acted and sounded, that it’s hard to make a movie that really gets to the meat of the matter.
We see him so sad and depressed, but why exactly? We hear some hints at his childhood, but really, they all come and go, while we just sit and watch as Hawke comes close to tears in every scene. Maybe there’s more to Baker than we’ll just ever know. For all we got now is the sweet and soulful music that he allowed for our ears to be treated to.
But was it enough? Unfortunately, we may never know or find out.
Consensus: Sad, but incredibly well-acted, Born to be Blue still suffers from being a biopic, but also has a keener-eye towards the heart that makes it seem slightly different and fresh.
6.5 / 10
Smile, Chet. It’s okay.
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire