Ethan Hawke plays legendary jazz-musician Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue, a gritty work about the man’s trumpet-playing comeback after he took a severe beating to the face.
Hawke just keeps adding to his list of great performances; this one might be his most ambitious. He learned how to play trumpet for the movie, impressively miming to the music on the soundtrack. He also captures the essence of a man addicted to a dangerous drug—a good man who is slowly killing himself.
Carmen Ejogo plays Jane, a combo-character depicting various women in Baker’s life. She does a nice job of showing the kind of patience required to deal with an addict.
The movie also contains some of the best and most-contentious scenes between a father and son I have seen in recent years: Stephen McHattie has just a couple of scenes as Baker’s dad but, man, are they memorably nasty. Miles Davis (Kedar Brown) was a devastating presence in Baker’s life, and he’s effectively depicted here.
I play the trumpet, and have played for many years. It’s a complex instrument, and director Robert Budreau and Hawke do a nice job of portraying those difficulties. I had a big gap in my teeth when I was younger, and it made playing the instrument hard. Baker had a missing tooth in his heyday, and dentures in his latter career. He still sounded cooler than most.
Much of the film (like the recent Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead) is fictitious, but that’s no matter. There’s a spirit to this movie that is very real.
Born to Be Blue opens Friday, April 15, at the Cinémas Palme D’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).