Director Ethan Hawke offers a cure for the common biopic in the life of Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey), a country-music singer-songwriter whose compositions were recorded by stars like Merle Haggard and John Prine, but who never himself managed any success in his lifetime. Some of the usual suspects are involved—including alcoholism—which would have made it easy for Blaze to fall victim to cliché. But in adapting the memoir by Foley’s wife, Sybil Rosen, Hawke employs an achronological structure that weaves between Foley’s life with Sybil (Alia Shawkat), a late live performance and a radio interview given by his friends after his death. The result isn’t simply unconventional, but enthralling, allowing us to watch Foley during happy times even as we know the fate awaiting him. Dickey, a non-professional actor, does remarkable work as Foley, capturing a lively raconteur who’s also a haunted, isolated soul. Where many films of this kind would emphasize the moment when people know they’re listening to creative genius, the defining shots here involve performances where musicians are mostly ignored, with characters wandering out of frame as songs play somewhere in the distance.
Director: Ethan Hawke
Producer: John Sloss, Jake Seal, Ryan Hawke, Ethan Hawke, Gurpreet Chandhoke and Louis Black
Cast: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Sam Rockwell, Wyatt Russell, Steve Zahn and Kris Kristofferson