There is a scene early in Born to be Blue where Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke) is asked why he does heroin. Was there something from his past so awful that only heroin could suppress? His response is one of childlike simplicity; he just really likes it. It is a line that perfectly sets the stage for the tragic portrait of a Jazz musician who never grew up. Chet Baker may be one of the most famous trumpet players you never heard of and Born to be Blue shows us why.
In the 50s Chet was an iconic star in the Jazz world, but we catch up with him in 1966 when he is nothing more than a drug addicted has been. Blue is set at possibly the most pivotal point in Chet’s life, where he is practically handed a chance for redemption; if only his grasp was firmer. Born to be Blue tracks Chet’s comeback, facilitated by his new girlfriend, Elaine(Carmene Ejogo) and methadone, a drug which he describes as having all the addictiveness of heroin with none of the fun.
The performance from Ethan Hawke carries what might have been a forgettable drama into a fascinating biopic. Hawke transforms himself into Chet, a reserved and soft spoken man who has a whimsical like innocence about him. I wanted to see him succeed even if I couldn’t fully understand what motivated this character– a true testament to Hawke’s portrayal. The relationship between the two leads feels genuine and not overly sentimental. He loves Elaine and playing music but more than anything Chet loves Chet…… and heroin.
What the film lacks is major conflict. Once he is off heroin, it is hard work that brings him back to relevancy, but where is the drama in that? Chet is a man who never gets to a low enough point to drastically change. With Methadone eliminating withdrawal, he is not forced to confront his inner demons, and maybe a little pain in his life would have done him some good. There has to be more to Chet Backer than the film explores. At least I hope so.
In a nut shell: This is the story of a selfish yet gifted man. Loser may be too harsh a word but without his talents I believe Chet would have amounted to very little. I wanted the film to go deeper into his character, but perhaps there wasn’t much more to him. Hawke’s performance is remarkable and brings wit and charm to an otherwise pitiful man. The film’s second act goes on far too long and its 3rd act, which contains the films finest moments, is squeezed into the last 15 minutes. It may not please the average moviegoer but Blue left an impact on me. (2.5 out of 4)
Well, I guess I’m luckier than some folks.
I’ve known the thrill of loving you.
And that alone is more than I was created for.
Cause I was born to be blue……. Yes you were Chet, yes you were.