Blaze ★★★½


The whiskey-soaked Outlaw Country biopic 'Blaze' is Ethan Hawke’s fourth feature film as a director, and the second that entails a deep dive into the life and times of a professional musician. 'Seymour: An Introduction', Hawke’s 2014 documentary about classical pianist Seymour Bernstein, is less a traditional non-fictional portrait than a joyous and intensely earnest artistic statement. As a filmmaker, Hawke was able to efficaciously translate Bernstein’s hard-won, commendable worldview – about creation, performance, instruction, integrity, and life itself – into glowing cinematic form.

At first glance, 'Blaze' appears to be the director’s foray into what is frequently a tired narrative subgenre: the True Story™ of an under-appreciated artist’s incandescent emergence, followed by their all-too-soon passing due to substance abuse and other self-immolating behavior. Often, the message in such films is essentially one of bittersweet tongue-clucking, a glib lament that such raw talent was so wastefully snuffed out in such a trite manner. Hawke is both too ardent and too astute for such facileness, however. 'Blaze' is a conflicted film, as uncertain about its thesis as 'Seymour' was clarion. This, oddly enough, works to the film’s immense benefit, invigorating an otherwise musty set of biopic tropes.

In recounting the short, fraught life of country music singer-songwriter Blaze Foley (born Michael Fuller), Hawke asks the viewer to wrestle with the uglier aspects of creativity and mythmaking. If 'Blaze' doesn’t provide much in the way of easy answers – or even a clear position on the matter of Foley’s artistic legacy – such ambiguity is mostly a feature rather than a bug. This is not the sort of biopic that is all that concerned with convincing the viewer of its subject’s creative genius and enduring importance. 'Blaze'’s methods are more poetic than proclamatory, focused primarily on transforming the raw facts of Foley’s life into an elliptical and heartsick dive bar epic, its arias picked out on an acoustic guitar in the wee hours of the night. Between the lines of this lyrical portraiture, however, is a sticky attempt to grapple with the havoc wreaked on lives and relationships by the toxic trifecta of art, commerce, and personal demons...

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