Born to be Blue film review: ‘Ethan Hawke falls short in Chet Baker biopic’

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker - Credit: Archant

The film focuses on a really thin sliver of time in the mid sixties when Baker (Ethan Hawke) was trying to clean up his act and romance Jenny (Carmen Ejogo), his co-star in a never completed film about his life.

Chet Baker was a jazz man and a junkie. A common combination and the junkie jazz musician biopic has a selection of well worn paths to take; none of which is the triumph over adversity arc.

The film focuses on a really thin sliver of time in the mid sixties when Baker (Ethan Hawke) was trying to clean up his act and romance Jenny (Carmen Ejogo), his co-star in a never completed film about his life.

At the start he gets his face kicked in by drug dealers he owes money to and is told that the damage to his lips is such that he will never play again.

Such is Baker’s love of music though that he is determined to play again.


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The structure means that most of Baker’s worst excesses are only alluded to.

Budreau’s desire to concentrate on the musician not the junkie is largely undercut by him having to make everything up to do so.

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Baker did have to come back from a beating but not on the trumpet, on the flugelhorn initially.

And the time scale was much longer than allowed here.

Junkies are the definition of stuck in their ways: with Hawke I sensed he would stub out that cigarette and tuck into a vegetarian dish the second the director called cut.

He’s the wrong kind of handsome, the role calls for crumbling beauty of the Matt Dillon type.

Ejogo though is wonderful, and she doesn’t even have a proper role to play. Jenny is so clearly a composite figure, a make do because the reality would be too hard to put on screen, but emotions flow out of Ejogo so readily, you do believe in the unreality.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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