STARRING: BEN DICKEY; ALIA SHAWKAT; CHARLIE SEXTON
DIRECTED BY: ETHAN HAWKE
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (out of 4)
Although we eagerly await for Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born to come crashing into theaters next week, may I interest you in another film about the rise and fall of a musician? Blaze, directed by Ethan Hawke, tells the story of folk singer Blaze Foley (played spectacularly by newcomer Ben Dickey), a man whose songs would eventually become massive hits, sung by the likes of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Unlike typical biopics, Blaze is more than just well-known actors portraying famous people, with performances that become impersonations more than embodiments. This is an old-school, backwoods look, at an artist that never got his fair shake in life, introducing us to the genius of Blaze Foley and his tragic demise.
The roots of music run deep into the ground of the world. From gospel, to country, the blues, and rock & roll, it's all started somewhere. That sense of the birth of a musical movement is what one gathers watching Blaze. It's a look at the men and women who started from the bottom, performing in rundown bars, or enjoying the sweet sounds of a guitar with friends on a porch. That entire concept is what director Ethan Hawke (who is having a fantastic 2018) has grasped, showing us a glimpse of a man who was both an extremely talented musician and in his own unique way a country poet. I like to think of him as a bearded Bob Dylan.
It's not all about the music, it's also about the man and his love affair with Sybil Rosen (played to perfection by Alia Shawkat). Together, they are perfect for one another, she an actress pursuing her dreams of performing Shakespeare in the park, and Blaze living out his dreams of becoming a legend of music, drinking his booze, and living in a small shanty in the woods. Hawke's writing, taken from Rosen's memoir “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley” and his direction capture the look and feel of what Blaze was about. There's a bright light in this man and it pours out from Ben Dickey's spectacular performance as he embodies exactly who this person was.
Typically in a film of this nature we would see a progression of rising and falling, but Blaze starts with our main character at his worst, but never embarrassing enough to feel sorry for him. Blaze Foley was often fighting against fame, never wanting the accolades that come with making great music. That's because he kept the music in a higher regard than himself. His addiction to alcohol was clearly a major point in why he was unable to rise above being a local music legend, but it was his own hatred for sell-out musicians that kept him in a state of underground singer.
At the end, Blaze embodies the appreciation that must be cherished for great artists. Ethan Hawke has made a film about someone that did not get his due fame and that is why a biopic of this kind works. It is also a fantastic discovery of Ben Dicky who has the musical and acting chops to deliver a strong performance. I look forward to seeing him in a Cohen brothers movie in the future. Still, Blaze is a movie that might not get the kind of respect it deserves, but maybe that's the way it always goes for Blaze Foley. He left his own trail in a Blaze of glory.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady