Born to Be Blue is a metabolic portrait that both constructs and destroys Baker as it runs the motions of his life as he struggles with heroin. Focusing on the grand idol’s path towards regaining his position as a music legend in the 60’s, Born to Be Blue is a very distinct and small interpretation of a moment in this man’s life that also serves as a perfect biopic to learn everything you need to about this damaged individual.
First off I must begin by listing positives. The film has a very particular style to it as it bounces from black and white to color and uses some great editing to make the transitions seamless. There’s a great scene towards the beginning of the film that truly caught me off guard that felt like a magic trick as it efficiently said what it had to say about Baker whilst portraying him in an incredibly unique vision that only Robert Budreau as a director could’ve come up with. The cinematography also plays with this style and adds its own flavor into the mix, capturing Baker’s troubling emotional phases through different colors and angles. Also, the acting is film is incredibly sincere and brutally honest. With the film tackling the roughest part of Baker’s career, even though he doesn’t exactly look like the man, Ethan Hawke does a tremendous job as Baker. Portraying angst, love, addiction, redemption, and the horrible downfall Baker had to endure, Hawke does it all in the most human way possible that makes you despise and care for a man that’s made such a mess of his life The same goes for Carmen Ejogo who showcases sincere love in the eyes of Hawke’s Baker, she represents a character who is truly caring and loving despite the corrosive nature of Baker.
Now, the big problem with this film is that its under two hours and feels awfully slow at times. Since its only tackling a brief period in Baker’s life, although extremely important, the film does struggle with what to do sometimes and falls back on montages of Hawke simply playing his trumpet over sunsets falling in background. Its extremely beautiful to look at but doesn’t particularly do anything for the story at all. There is also an issue of Budreau not trusting his audience’s intelligence as towards the end of the film a certain character makes a decision that is obviously clear by his body language and once you on to it its emotionally powerful what this man has done by simply moving his hands, but for some reason Budreau decides to cut to show what he’s done and downgrade the acting by introducing this prop that showcases the demise of the decision. Its frustrating because it belittles the audience and its capability of catching on to nuances that will make them think about the film. Much like The Revenant, Born to Be Blue is also just emotionally draining as you’re stuck with a miserable character that only finds new ways to destroy his life over and over again.
The film does have more positives than negatives but is nonetheless a troubling watch. Dealing with emotional turmoil and showcasing itself as a mostly destructive portrait of Baker, the film does seem to beat you with misery at times. Though, if you’re able to get past the darkness the portrait is painted on, the film does have some of the most honest acting of the year so far that’s tied to a great story about the musical legend of Baker. The film has its flaws, but it works overall because of its unique style and incredible performance from Ethan Hawke.