Usually I avoid all things that say “Based on a True Story”, because in my opinion, 90% of the time they’re devoid of anything “true” in favour of an over-dramatised telling of the events. So when I was tasked to review ‘Born to be Blue’, I was hesitant. After watching it, and subsequently reading a little bit more about Chet Baker, I can attest that it’s rather accurate, which makes for a pleasant surprise considering how biased people can be when telling a biography nowadays. However it does take the pacing of smooth jazz and seems to apply it rather well to this film – by that I mean it’s really slow and depressing.
Most films about the old school jazz industry are either filled with drugs, or some kind of extreme struggle with the local district, that’s usually mob influenced. ‘Born to be Blue’ was a light blend of both, mixed with a lot of visualized internal struggles. At one point Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke) has his fingers and jaw broken, because he owes money to local drug dealers, which makes it difficult for him to play the trumpet for his jazz band. The recovery from this accident is rather slow and monotonous, which doesn’t make for the most interesting watch.
Half the time you’re watching him spit blood out his trumpet or struggle with his fingers, with multiple shots of this, and it’s very uncomfortable after a while. Eventually they introduce him to methadone, which is a substitute for heroin. This was rather drab, because there were only a few quick lines to explain how it made him feel, and then they quickly jumped to other subjects. It comes back up in the end only to be briefly revisited with little to no explanation as to why Chet decided to continue with the medication. This is a little puzzling to me because it does have a larger impact on his love life later in the film, and it is like he didn’t give it a second thought.
The subtle impact of the struggling relationship with his girlfriend hits home when its brought to the forefront by people that don’t approve of their mixed race relationship. While it’s a subplot that is anticlimactic, I’m kinda glad it didn’t go anywhere. If anyone knows anything about mixed race relations before the 1950s then most know that they don’t end well. There are a few conflicts with her parents, but most of the drama surrounds her struggle with trying to keep Chet clean, despite his access to other venues. It gives the impression that Chet isn’t too bright, but I’ll try to reserve my judgemenet.
The subtle nuances between a genius and his addiction are highlighted through the dialogue and light touches throughout the film. The scenery is beautiful and the social commentary of the time stays true to it’s origins. There’s a fair amount of times where the true origins of jazz shine through in the sorrowful dialogue. It’s entertaining in the end, but the relatively short 97 minute run time does feel like it drags on.
I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a look into reoccurring addiction and how it affects family, otherwise skip it!
DIRECTOR: ROBERT BUDREAU
STARRING: ETHAN HAWKE, CARMEN EJOGO, CALLUM KEITH RENNIE