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Born to Be Blue


Stars: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie, Stephen McHattie, Janet-Laine Green, Dan Lett, Kedar Brown, Kevin Hanchard

Director: Robert Budreau

Biopics about jazz trumpeters seem to follow a familiar pattern - at least where the musician is a junkie as well. This one is, if highly fictionalised, still inevitably sad and sadly inevitable, but presented pretty much on one note, never an accusation that could be levelled against Chet Baker (Hawke), its subject.

Known as 'the James Dean of jazz' and 'the prince of swing' as he comes to prominence in the early 1950s, Chet is first introduced to heroin at the Birdland club in New York, where such jazz greats as Miles Davis (Brown), Dizzy Gillespie (Hanchard) and others congregate.

Twelve years later, we find Chet on the floor of an Italian jail, thinking he sees a tarantula crawling out of his trumpet.

Back in America, he has the bejazus kicked out of him by drug dealers and loses all his front teeth. He's told he can never play trumpet again. Still, it seems that the love of an actress/jazz pianist (Ejogo, an improbably light-skinned daughter of mahogany-black parents) may rehabilitate him: with the help of methodone and a new set of front teeth, he begins to sound like the Baker of old.

But when he gets a gig back in Birdland and his girlfriend (now his fiancée) can't go, you know the writing is on the wall.

A heartfelt, dedicated performance by Hawke and some golden trumpet playing just about sees this downbeat drama through to the end. Perhaps not one to see, however, after a hard day at the office.

David Quinlan

Canada/UK 2015. UK Distributor: Universal. Technicolor.
97 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 22 Jul 2016