Critics' Pick

Blaze (R)

Drama 127 min. August 17, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
The chief achievement of Blaze, Ethan Hawke’s impassioned and uncompromising study of musicians on the margins, is that the film’s subjects, were they alive, wouldn’t scoff at it. Like Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt, the late Texas singer-songwriters it honors, Blaze is high-proof liquor in a near-beer world, a drink that’ll burn some going down — and knock the unsympathetic right out. It proudly, defiantly ain’t for everybody, and Hawke, in the spirit of a Van Zandt live album, ain’t afraid to follow a dirge with a dirge.

It is to Hawke’s credit that he has invested what clout he has gathered in his industry into this study of an artist who never gathered much clout at all — and that the resulting film has the warm, weary rhythms of Foley’s own songs. Hawke has framed the film as a eulogy, a romance and a command performance. At a radio station interview after Foley’s death, Charlie Sexton’s Van Zandt tells Foley stories and plays the searing tribute “Blaze’s Blues.” This is intercut with scenes from Foley’s life, most notably lively, lovely glimpses of the months he lived in an off-the-grid cabin with actress-writer Sybil Rosen, played by Alia Shawkat; Ben Dickey’s Foley and Shawkat’s Rosen seem fully, breathlessly lost in each other. Finally, threaded all through this is Foley’s final performance, to an indifferent crowd at an Austin club on the final night of his life. Foley’s art was delicate and demanding, avowedly not for everyone, given its power by its own cussed integrity. The same goes for Hawke’s film.
Ethan Hawke Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Charlie Sexton, Josh Hamilton, Richard Linklater, Alynda Segarra, Sam Rockwell Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen IFC Films

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