Ethan Hawke is an utterly magnetic screen presence as Chet Baker, the legendary trumpeter and singer who, after becoming a jazz icon in the 1950s, became equally famous for his drug addiction. "Born to be Blue" reimagines Baker's life as a mixture of factual and fictional events, picking up his story late in his career when - after years of heroin abuse, financial loss, and public disgrace - he 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), 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 his mouth so badly damaged that his musical career looks in doubt. With a modified sound, a youthful hunger, and Jane's unflagging support, he becomes determined to regain his place among his peers - chiefly 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. Something 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.