This movie is brilliant. Maybe the best movie I have seen so far at the festival. Ethan Hawke portrays the legendary jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker in a tightly scripted film that covers an early part of his career about his struggles to deal with heroin addiction and the connection between that and his music. It’s a complex story but handled very well. The filming, much of which happened in Sudbury, and the acting are at the highest level. The music is great with Canadian jazz artists doing most of the work although Ethan Hawke apparently did much of the singing and he is very good. Jazz stalwarts like Mike Murley and Terry Clarke back him up and really enhance the movie. Baker rose to stardom at the time of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis but when jazz was still a domain of black musicians in New York. Baker was part of a new style of west coast cool jazz and he sang as well which was not well regarded by the New York artists. A great quote from the film has Ethan Hawke in a kind of soliloquy saying: Hey Dizzy, Miles, there’s a white boy coming from California and he’s gonna eat your lunch.
The biography of Chet Baker is a novel in itself and this film only touches on the early part of his career. His most productive time for playing and recording occurred after the end of this film but we see how he gets to that point and it is a moving story. Going back to Hitchcock and Truffaut, one of Hitchcock’s techniques or skills was to portray feelings and thoughts of the characters in a glance or a look rather than dialogue. In the last scene of this movie, Baker is on stage at Birdland. Playing at Birdland in NYC is the sign he has finally made it back to the top. He struggles however to go on stage and although he has been clean – no heroin for years – he is tempted to use again just to get the confidence he needs to go on. The tension builds and we do not know if he will resort to heroin he has in his dressing room or take the methadone that has kept him clean so long. His fiancée who has helped him stay clean all this time did not come with him to NYC and he felt abandoned by her however she shows up unannounced just as he comes on stage. She has told him she will leave him if he goes back on the drugs and she will know he is using just by his manner when he is high. He comes out, sees her and starts to play My Funny Valentine. He brushes his cheek which is the sign he is using again and she sees it. He continues to play as he watches her take off her engagement ring and walk out. He however has made it back, the heroin helps him play to his full potential while destroying him at the same time. His eyes say it all: goodbye, I’ve made it, I am never going back. Fade to black. Great scene, great ending, great performance.
No release date for this film yet but some critics who have seen it say it is Ethan Hawke’s best performance in film. It is bound to come out and it will be well worth your while to see it.