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BORN TO BE BLUE (#TIFF15 Review)

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BORN TO BE BLUE

Written and Directed by Robert Budreau / Starring Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo and Callum Keith Rennie

Like so many other legendary jazz musicians, Chet Baker is probably better known today for his addiction to drugs than the music that made him famous. BORN TO BE BLUE takes a unique approach to the standard biopic and focuses on the trumpeter in the 1960’s as he works on a comeback, after years of abuse, with the help of his supportive girlfriend Jane (Carmen Ejogo). His goal is to play at the jazz Mecca, Birdland, one more time and to get a new recording contract. Much of Baker’s past life is creatively shown in the film with Chet Baker playing Chet Baker in a fictitious feature length movie about his life.

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Ethan Hawke is an actor that I’ve always admired for his technical acumen but I could never warm up to him. That said, his performance in this movie is rich and nuanced; his emotional fragility is etched into his face even during the violent bursts of insane jealousy. Hawke may have been inspired to greatness by the fierce and intense performance of his co-star Carmen Ejogo (SELMA, SPARKLE). As Jane, Ejogo commands the screen. The jazz soundtrack will appeal to fans of the genre and Hawke’s haunting interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” is genuinely moving. There are also some beautiful black and white sequences, which are reminiscent of the Herb Ritts’ directed video for “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak, who, irony of ironies, starred with Chet Baker in LET’S GET LOST.

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Writer/Director Robert Budreau displays great restraint in BORN TO BE BLUE.  In lesser hands, it could have been a clichéd mess, focusing on drugs and needles and how Baker’s nasty passive aggressive parents shaped his sad life. Instead, he portrays Chet Baker as brittle damaged goods trying hard to change the direction of his life. It is both inspiring and refreshing.

3.5 sheep

BORN TO BE BLUE screens at TIFF15 as part of the Special Presentations program. This is the screening information:

Sunday, September 13, 2:00 PM, Winter Garden Theatre

Monday, September 14, 9:00 AM, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

For more information and for tickets, please visit tiff.net.

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