Born to Be Blue, a dark drama about the legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker that was written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Robert Budreau, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday — and it’s somewhat surprising to me that the title hasn’t already been swooped up by an indie distributor, since it features one of the most distinguished performances of Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke‘s career.
While the film, which also stars lovely Carmen Ejogo (Selma) as Baker’s love interest/”babysitter,” certainly has areas for which it can be faulted — its pacing often feels off and its protagonist’s travails are not unlike those chronicled in a million other biopics about troubled musicians, including 2015 TIFF selection I Saw the Light — the performance of the Boyhood star is not among them.
Hawke, a big Baker fan who learned to play the trumpet for the role, plays the 1950s icon — a self-sabotaging heroin junkie who was also one of the few white jazz trumpeters to capture the sound and respect of the finest black jazz artists (a Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, will close the New York Film Festival on Oct. 11 and come out next year) — with a soft-spoken sweetness, sensitivity and charm that reminds me a lot of, well, Ethan Hawke, as I’ve come to “know” him during my years on the awards beat.
It’s a soulful performance that reminds me of Jack Klugman‘s in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode “A Passage for Trumpet” (as a trumpeter who can only play well when he’s off the wagon) and of Mickey Rourke‘s in The Wrestler (as a talented guy who is his own worst enemy).
I could absolutely see Hawke’s performance garnering attention from Gotham Independent Film Awards and Independent Spirit Awards voters, if not members of the Academy.