Biopics are often hit or miss – and when the subject is a musician they tend to be the latter (think Nina and Aaliyah Princess of R&B). Occasionally, a film will come along that captures the essence of the figure it aims to portray, and the Ethan Hawke directed Blaze Foley biopic, Blaze, does just that.
One of the heroes of the Texas outlaw movement, Foley was a country music singer-songwriter who posthumously garnered a cult-like following. Shot dead at the tender age of 39, he left behind a 60-song catalog that would later be sampled and repurposed by artists like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
Blaze is based on Living in the Woods in a Tree, a book written by Foley’s ex-wife, Sybil Rosen. It doesn’t follow the typical guidelines for a biopic, though. Stringing together moments from Foley’s life, it gives the audience a glimpse of the obscure musician’s story, leaving a fair bit untold.
In the film, Sybil (Alia Shawkat) and Blaze (Ben Dickey) are the epitome of an odd couple, but both find common ground through their mutual respect for the arts. Sybil is a petite, level-headed, aspiring actress and Blaze is a bearded, non-communicative musician with a noticeable limp. They tried to make it work, Blaze even converted to Judaism to maintain their relationship, but it soured when he chose to chase fame and fell into addiction.
First-time actor, Ben Dickey, stands out in this film. He gave a stellar performance as the country music legend. Singing and playing the guitar in every music scene, he truly showcased his talent and poured himself into the role.
Hawke, is also worthy of honourable mention, as he masterfully illustrated what a multidimensional individual Foley was throughout Blaze. Many times, Blaze quickly transitioned from light to dark, sometimes sabotaging his chances at happiness and success – a story told time and time again. The heartbreaking part was that he had all the potential in the world, but he wasn’t fully able to grasp that before his light was dimmed.