Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Before Midnight) is utterly magnetic as Chet Baker, the legendary trumpeter and singer whose personal problems often overshadowed his majestic music. Born to Be Blue reimagines Baker’s life as a mixture of factual and fictional events, picking up the story late in the jazz icon’s career when—after years of heroin abuse, financial loss, and public disgrace—Baker stages a comeback.
Born to Be Blue finds Baker at the end of the 1960s, starring in a film about his own already-infamous life. He strikes up a passionate romance on and off the film set with Jane (Carmen Ejogo, Selma), the actress playing one of his lovers, but his hopes for a bright future are suddenly darkened when he suffers a brutal beating in a parking lot after a gig. The film is shelved and Baker’s mouth so badly damaged that the musician’s future career looks in doubt. But with a modified sound, a youthful hunger, and Jane’s unflagging support, Baker becomes determined to regain his place among his peers, including his friend and collaborator Dizzy Gillespie (Kevin Hanchard), his rival Miles Davis (Kedar Brown), and his reticent producer (Callum Keith Rennie).
Writer-director Robert Budreau immerses us in the seductive jazz milieu of the time, while anchoring Baker’s story in the larger context of 1960s America’s racial issues and ongoing political turmoil. Much more than a standard biopic, Born to Be Blue takes an imaginative approach true to its subject’s own creative nature, portraying the life of an artist whose contributions to the music world were as grand as his addictions were tragic.
“Ethan Hawke gives one of the best performances of his career in Robert Budreau’s Chet Baker non-biopic.” (Andrew Barker, Variety)
“Surprisingly, and successfully, it becomes a love story. Hawke and Ejogo have phenomenal chemistry, as she plays Jane more as a stabilizer than a savior.” (Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com)