Ahead are two peripatetic decades of scattershot gigs and recording sessions, and the heroin addiction that would transform Baker’s face into a hollow-eyed mask of deep lines and sunken cheeks. Photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber studied that Baker, a worn but still charismatic performer, in the 1988 documentary Let’s Get Lost, which premiered four months after Baker’s fatal fall from an Amsterdam hotel window.
The mystery surrounding Baker’s final moments inspired writer-director Budreau to speculate about his life in
In a promising meta-narrative that introduces actress Jane Azuka (Carmen Ejogo), Hawke’s Chet has been cast in a Hollywood version of his life (inspired by a never-made Dino de Laurentiis project). This movie-within-a-movie, with its cherry-picked details and glossed-over sins, acknowledges the pitfalls of the musician biopic and signals that Born to Be Blue isn’t going to be a note-for-note re-creation. But Budreau’s variation on the theme of Chet Baker doesn’t play out as an inspired improvisation, settling instead into familiar grooves of a redemptive melodrama, with Jane as the embittered savior whose pure heart and clear head could save the tortured genius from himself.
It’s one of the most pernicious clichés in the genre, and if the fictional Jane were a real black woman in the late 1960s with her background and accomplishments (bohemian daughter of academics, trained jazz pianist and vocalist, Chekhov-quoting Method actress), she’d be more likely leading a cultural revolution than propping up a strung-out relic of the Eisenhower era.
Budreau employs the iconography of Claxton and Weber to present Baker’s star quality, that heady blend of intimacy and
While Budreau highlights Hawke’s resemblance to Baker by focusing on the faded boyishness of his gaunt face, Hawke chooses interpretation over impersonation. He uses the breathy upper register of his voice to capture both the persuasive qualities of the soft-spoken Baker and his barely contained volatility.
This duality is key to an encounter with his father (McHattie), a taciturn Oklahoma farmer and frustrated musician, in which Chet reveals how Chesney Sr. influenced his recording of the Mel Tormé standard “Born to Be Blue.” Hawke and McHattie maintain tight-lipped smiles as their reconciliation turns into a hostile discussion of the disappointment overshadowing Baker’s success.