Blaze - Review

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Blaze is an extremely well made biopic from Ethan Hawke on the life of Blaze Foley, legendary yet oft-forgotten country and folk musician of the 70s and 80s. His life was ended abruptly when he was shot at 39, and this film chronicles his life from the point he meets his great love to when he is shot and buried. It is a compelling and aesthetically brilliant film that relies heavily on the acting of Ben Dickey and Alia Shawkat, which are not always up to snuff. When Hawke places the camera on Dickey for nearly every frame of a two hour film it is difficult to remain interested in someone who is written as a one note character.

Dickey’s acting is fine, as are his excellent look and devotion to the character, but his lines often dodge the emotional pathways that lead to his big moments. Dozens of shots have Foley drunk and stumbling, suddenly telling people off and smashing guitars. They are placed alongside Foley the teddy bear, a point touched on in the film; Foley could be the mean gruff he acted on stage as well as the subtle and wise friend. Blaze’s portrayal makes this black and white, assuming the audience understands why he is the way he is, but throughout the film he is almost always succeeding. Even when his record label bosses (featuring a cameo from Richard Linklater) crack down on him and pull their contract, Blaze is unaffected. Nothing seems to phase him in his nomadic life, save for his separation from Sybil, which is a genuinely tender moment. In this scene the writing and acting coalesce, but it is a one-off. Too much rides on it, and by the end of the film it would be difficult to know anything had changed in his life at all.

Where Blaze falls, it falls hard. The acting is authentic but the script is often lacking, forcing too many scenes into cliche territory. The pace and cinematography are fantastic, though. For the first half of the film, the lighting cradles each scene with a daft mix of candle light and naturally dark lighting. The first scene, which has Foley and his band goofing off in a barely lit studio, is possibly its best. But Blaze is too flawed to stand on the shoulders of its lighting and editing, despite its rich source material.