Starring Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Charlie Sexton, Josh Hamilton, Kris Kristofferson, Sam Rockwell, Richard Linklater, Steve Zahn,
Oscar-nominated actor; and sometime screenwriter and director Ethan Hawke steps back behind the camera for his fourth feature. “Blaze” is the story of little known Austin musician Blaze Foley, who often created more trouble and drama than he did music. Hawke chose Foley’s story for the big screen specifically because he wasn’t a big celebrity, and he might have otherwise remained relatively unknown due to the fact he died young. Unfortunately for the viewer and despite Hawke’s attempt, “Blaze” is a slow-moving dull affair that follows the rise and destructive fall of yet another musician. It’s no “Crazy Heart,” as Foley’s music isn’t the kind that moves you out of your chair. Hawke’s vast cinema experience is evident in the visual notes and techniques he incorporates. He also found a few cameo roles for some of his actor friends.
“I don’t want to be a star,” Michael David Fuller (Dickey) said. “I want to be a legend.” He played music locally in backwoods Georgia where he met Sybil Rosen (Shawkat), the love of his life. They lived off the grid until the real world drew them to the Austin, Texas music scene. With his musical path to stardom set, he changed his name to Blaze Foley. Yet with everything he always wanted in front of him, he detours away from creativity toward alcoholism and hard drugs. “He only went crazy once, but he stayed there,” says fellow musician Townes Van Zant describing his unpredictable friend. The musical venues that would host Blaze usually ended up kicking him out because of his aggressive nature on stage. He wanted to talk more than he sang.
“Blaze” is a slow-moving dull affair that follows the rise and destructive fall of yet another musician.
Hawke, who co-wrote the screenplay with Foley’s ex Sybil Rosen, has given a very creative structure to his film. Van Zant and “Eighth Grade’s” Josh Hamilton talk to a KYPC Country Roads radio host (voiced by Hawke) talking about the end of Blaze’s life. The rest of the film is told as a linear flashback of Blaze’s rise and fall. If this sort of folk-country music is something you are interested, the music might be a reason to stay. The inevitable story play’s out like most musical biopics, proving whether you are a rich musician touring the world, or a poor one being kicked out of seedy bars, the temptation toward self-destruction is the same.
Recognizable faces Steve Zahn, Hawke’s collaborator Richard Linklater, and Oscar winner Sam Rockwell appear for two brief scenes as wealthy oil men willing to fund Blaze’s record. The remainder of the movie is lined with local Austin and Houston actors supporting Hawke’s endeavor. Because there were so few people who know about Blaze Foley, newcomer Dickey is in a unique position of not being subject to widespread comparisons, unlike most actors portraying musical artists on film. His performance isn’t anything that will stir the Academy. It is Alia Shawkat (“20th Century Women”) who taps into the heart of the film, similarly to, but not as powerful as, Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart.”
Hawke’s musical biopic “Blaze” is passable entertainment on a local (Austin, Texas) level, but it never finds mainstream appeal.