Now, the year is 2016, and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Predestination) is playing Chet Baker in a biopic. Born to Be Blue chronicles Baker’s journey to fight addiction, and rebuild his life and career. The film begins on the set of Baker’s biopic in 1966. He falls for the woman playing his ex-wife in the film, an African-American actress and musician named Jane (Carmen Ejogo, Selma). The two begin a tumultuous love affair that ultimately helps Baker through his darkest days, as he tries to rebuild his musical career and stage a comeback.
Director Robert Budreau takes an interesting approach in telling Baker’s story. The film alternates between real-time, color scenes of the present (1966) and scenes from the biopic shot in black and white piecing together Baker’s past. Because Ejogo plays Baker’s girlfriend in the present and the actress playing Baker’s ex-wife in the biopic scenes, it got a little confusing. It was, however, a unique approach to telling a linear story that brought something new to the table. Budreau’s directing style is pretty run-of-the-mill, and doesn’t necessarily let the actors shine as much as they could. Hawke, for example, excels much more noticeably under the direction of Richard Linklater. Maybe I’m biased because of how much I love both of them and the art they create together, but Hawke always seems to do his best work with Linklater. This performance as Chet Baker was relatively new territory for Hawke, to which he brought his natural acting ability. Not my favorite role of his, but he exuded intensity and emotion in this difficult part.
Born to Be Blue is a movie made about Chet Baker for people who want to know more about Chet Baker. Other movies about music can be geared toward a broader audience, like fans of a certain genre, but this film fails at that. For fans of Chet Baker, this film is perfect. For fans of jazz, it’s pretty good. For film buffs who don’t like jazz, it may not even be enjoyable. Luckily, I have an appreciation for jazz music, as well as Ethan Hawke, so I was able to watch the entire film without any difficulty. Born to Be Blue tells the story of every tortured artist and their struggle with the vicious cycle of addiction. The reality of addiction should not be discounted, but the film doesn’t bring anything new to that general story that’s been told again and again. I had high hopes for this film, but ultimately it fell short of my expectations.