Overview: A dramatic reimagining of the late return from seminal Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in 1960s California. Entertainment One; 2016; Rated R; 97 minutes.
Let’s Get Lost: With echoes of the real life musician scattered throughout writer-director Robert Budreau’s latest, Born to Be Blue lives up to the grandeur and allusion of its title. Starring Ethan Hawke in the lead role, Baker appears simultaneously innocent and volatile throughout. Despite persistently declaring his intentions to stay off heroin, the notorious recluse often dives back into hard and soft recreational activities. Engaged with some level of dedicated decorum to his latest in a long line of look-alike ex-wives, Hawke never plays the playboy exactly. Instead, his take on the Baker legend casts the late icon in the light of accidental indiscretion. Baker never means to do wrong, but when he does he does so with an irreverent inclination towards depravity that’s universally empathetic. Hawke rarely plays a false note, and as such his Baker’s addiction echoes that of the broken nature of mortal man in kind, divorced from the Godly yet striving to achieve the same through fragmented ends to the detriment of his own mind and body.
Impressionism In Relief: Juxtaposing the past and the present through the means of black and white and color photography, Budreau’s film takes on the air of documentary filmmaking. Much of Hawke’s influence in portraying Baker can be seen as having its direct line of narrative inspiration from the classic documentary film of 1988 Let’s Get Lost, which saw the real life Baker during his final years abroad in Europe, while simultaneously borrowing concepts from the failed Dino De Laurentiis feature film production mean to depict the real life Baker playing himself in 1950s New York prior to his subsequent addiction to heroin. Born to Be Blue manages to portray its story against the deep shades of antiquated impressionism in relief against its contemporaneously depicted tragedy. Baker is like the devil dressed up in angel’s wings, as the black and white sequences from an entirely fabricated past jar with the hard reality of his present fall from grace.
Portrait of the Artist: Stemming from a deep well of exhaustive knowledge about the life, work, and death of Baker, Hawke is able to bring a familial immediacy to the role throughout what prove to be an impressive drama. Drawing from his own insecurities as an artist in struggle with the desire to appear calm, cool, and collected, Hawke plays Baker in a manner that lends gravity to the proceedings. Born to Be Blue never falls into the trap of attempting an outright melodrama or maintaining strict historical accuracy, instead opting for dedication to Baker via Hawke’s mock reverence. Baker in Born to Be Blue appears like a chimera of the popular culture, as his legacy supersedes him, lending all of the gravitas and stature that has resulted in the production of multiple motion pictures about him in the past and the present, both incomplete and complete. Baker was gripped with the same demons that possess any artist, and his particular shortcomings serve to inform Hawke professionally and personally.
Overall: Budreau’s Born to Be Blue is a majestic depiction of the struggle of being an artist in late-twentieth century America, and stands as one of the most memorable bio-pictures in recent memory.
Featured Image: Entertainment One