I’ve never heard of country singer Blaze Foley, but writer/producer/director Ethan Hawke does a fabulous job telling his story. It shows us his alcoholism, which got him kicked out of the bars where he performed, and it shows us the characters in his life-from his friends to his lover. It took awhile for me to warm up to the movie, but it’s got a good note.
Musician and newcomer Ben Dickey is outstanding as Blaze (1949-1989), who was born with the name Michael David Fuller, and his stage name was inspired by Red Foley. He fell in love with a young Jewish girl named Sybil (Alia Shawkat), marries her, and decides to get his music career on track. They travel to Atlanta, Houston, Austin, Texas and Chicago, and back to Austin again; but due to the high pressures, that’s when he resorts to drinking, and that’s when his love story ends.
Hawke also appears (in voice and his back side) as a DJ, interviewing Blaze’s good friends and fellow musicians: Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) and Zee (Josh Hamilton). They both admit the struggles, love, and inspiration that made Blaze who he was.
This movie is made for fans of country music-the ones who have fun listening to bands at bars and out on boats. It’s made with the kind of authentic lives that make country music so challenging, and yet so inspiring. Again, it took awhile for me to warm up to the movie, and it does lag a bit in its narrative; but it’s undeniable proof that Hawke has the guts to also be a filmmaker. He brings everyone together, and he introduces me to a character I’ve never heard before.
The cast is amazing. Dickey has the voice, heart, and looks to resurrect this musician. I love all the bar scenes when he sings and picks fights; and I admire his relationship with Shawkat. She’s charming and emotional as the girl, and she has fresh moments like her trying to calm Blaze down for his behavior. Sexton and Hamilton are both lovable in the ways they narrate his story, and how they keep him in check. And you get some cool cameos from Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Zahn as a couple of record label cowboys; especially when they slam Blaze for his alcoholic behavior at a party. And Kris Kristofferson also appears in a tiny role as Blaze’s father, mostly asking his guests: “You got any cigarettes?.”
The movie and scope looks relaxing. It’s mostly pale with a splash of vivid warm; and it makes things feel riveting and country-like. Kudos to Steve Cosens for the cinematography and Jason Gourson for the editing.
If you love country music, then “Blaze” is the one for you.