Shot dead at the age of 39 in a mundane dispute over a friend’s pension slip, Blaze Foley has been folded into country music legend – spoken of in whispers, his influences keenly felt but never explicitly acknowledged.
This clearly didn’t sit well with Ethan Hawke, who takes up Foley’s mythical tale for his third directorial effort. In Blaze, he succeeds in shining a light on one of the biggest names in country no one’s heard of, simultaneously humanising the singer while further adding to his elusive, wild-man mystique.
Written by Hawke with Foley’s lover Sybil Rosen, it’s an affectionate, honest portrait that interrogates our need to deify dead icons, while carving out a space in music history long left vacant for Foley to fill.
Newcomer Ben Dickey takes the title role, sharing little physical resemblance to the real deal, and positively beguiles. His Foley is big in physicality and personality, with his increasingly feral beard and ramshackle fashion sense exploding further outwards as he barrels towards self destruction.
He spins convoluted anecdotes that morph into appealingly offbeat witticisms, all barely comprehensible and laced with proverbs, riddles and fractured lyrics. It could come off as precocious or frustrating, but Dickey carries it all with a winsome, irrepressible charm.
Alia Shawkat is simply luminous as Rosen, with a stoic strength and agency of character that balances her easy chemistry with Dickey to craft a two-hander as essential as Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon’s Johnny and June Carter Cash in Walk the Line.
Guided intuitively by Hawke’s sumptuous directorial eye, Blaze is an epically-rendered, yet intimate, biopic soaked deep in the gruff melancholy of its subject’s music – which also features prominently. Blunt interjections of reality punctuate the hero worship to craft a meaningful and wholly deserving tribute to a man lost to time.
CAST: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton
DIRECTOR: Ethan Hawke
WRITERS: Ethan Hawke & Sybil Rosen (screenplay), Sybil Rosen (based on the book by)
SYNOPSIS: Ethan Hawke directs this affectionate tribute to the life of country musician Blaze Foley.