Four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke steps into the shoes of the complicated former jazz trumpeter, phenom, and icon of the West Coast “cool school” of jazz. Gifted with raw talent, Baker’s rise was swift as many thought he was as talented as his celebrated contemporaries, including the great Miles Davis. The film centers on Baker’s comeback attempt as he is portraying himself in a film spotlighting his life. This chance encounter introduces him to the woman who would become his soul mate, Jane (Carmen Ejogo), who becomes his lover, confidant, and emotional support.
Director Robert Budreau’s story examines Baker’s life through the various peaks and valleys as he tries to regain his form following a vicious attack that knocked out his front teeth, nearly taking away his career. In addition, he is plagued with insecurities and self-doubt after an unexpected meeting with Miles Davis, who dismissingly advises Baker to come back and see him only “after he had lived life a little;” advice that would haunt Baker for much of his life. But the love of a good woman brings Baker back as Jane gives him the emotional support for him to regain his career, culminating in a showcase at the iconic Birdland in front of an audience of his peers, including both Dizzy Gillespie and Davis.
This is one of two films spotlighting tremendous jazz trumpeters from the Bebop era, with Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead coming to theaters later this month. In addition to both men being contemporaries, their films share similar story devices, most notably in part that neither are biopics, but small slices out of their extraordinary lives.
Budreau gets soulful performances from both Hawke and Ejogo, whose Jane is a tragic, yet beautiful spirit who gives as much as she can but finds that loving Baker begins to suffocate her dreams.
Unlike the dark, jazz biopics of the past, most notably Clint’s Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic, Bird, Born to Be Blue is a portrait of a tortured soul burdened by far too much pain and insecurity, always searching for happiness and approval that ultimately he may never find!