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This excellent biopic is about someone that probably almost no one has heard of (certainly not me). Blaze Foley (played by Benjamin Dickey), born Michael David Fuller, was a country/folk songwriter who foreshadowed the rise of outlaw country stars like Merle Haggard, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Willie Nelson. Under Ethan Hawke’s careful direction, the film examines Blaze’s life at three periods of time: When he was courting and married to Sybil Rosen (who co-wrote the screenplay with Hawke); during the last day of his life; and a radio interview with his friend and sometimes collaborator and fellow country/folk singer-songwriter Towns Van Zandt after Blaze died. The interweaving of timelines is very effective and makes the scenes with Blaze and Sybil (played by Alia Shawkat) especially beautiful and poignant. The cinematography is gorgeous. The direction and screenplay are first-rate; I really grew to like Blaze and felt like I came to appreciate how he experienced his world and how that fueled his creativity. He made music the way he wanted to make it while managing to engage in a fair amount of self-sabotage (there is a great line, “I don’t want to be a star, I want to be a legend” that captures him perfectly). The best scenes in the film are with Blaze and Sybil together; Dicky and Shawkat have amazing chemistry.  Dickey, who has never acted before from what I can tell, gives an award-winning performance by dissolving into his character and capturing Blaze’s highs and lows. Hawke and Rosen wrote their screenplay in a way that allows us to hear a full complement of Blaze’s songwriting. In the credits, the wonderful Lucinda Williams sings her tribute song to him (Drunken Angel). The film gets a huge thumbs-up from me. It is honest, beautiful, and heartbreaking – I left the theater feeling like I had seen something special and have continued to ruminate on the film.

About Gary Burkholder

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