Blaze (2018: Dir.: Ethan Hawke)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, September 21, at the. Landmark Embarcadero and Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
Ethan Hawke gives the best performance of the year so far in my favorite film of 2018 so far (Paul Schrader’s First Reformed), and now he has also directed one of my favorites, and it’s a rock-and-roll biopic to boot. Ten years ago, coming off the hot mess of Hawke’s The Hottest State, this scenario would have been unimaginable, but that’s life in the age of Trump for you: up is down, black is white, Ethan Hawke is a very good director making films with grace and nuance, hamburgers eat people and so on (for the record, I also liked Hawke’s 2014 documentary Seymour: An Introduction). Musician Ben Dickey makes his acting debut as Blaze Foley (aka Deputy Dawg), a burly, self-destructive country singer who was shot to death in 1989 at the age of 39. Dickey does a fine job in the role, performing Foley’s songs and capturing both the tenderness and torture of the character, but he is matched and even surpassed by Alia Shawkat as his lover and muse Sybil Rosen (the film is adapted from Rosen’s memoir Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley) and musician Charlie Sexton (he played a small role opposite Hawke in Boyhood) as his contemporary and friend Townes van Zandt. Blaze doesn’t exactly skirt biopic cliches, even employing two well-worn framing devices – the life-encompassing live performance and the print-the-legend interview – but the tenderness, beauty, complexity and restraint of the execution transcends all genre limitations.