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film review

Alia Shawkat stars as Sybil Rosen, right, and Ben Dickey as Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas outlaw music movement, in Ethan Hawke's Blaze.Courtesy of levelFILM

Blaze

Directed by Ethan Hawke

Written by Ethan Hawke and Sybil Rosen

Starring Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat and Charlie Sexton

Classification 14A; 129 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Ethan Hawke is not a conventional filmmaker. This should come as little surprise for those who follow Hawke’s career in front of the camera, where he easily moves between projects mainstream (Juliet, Naked), experimental (Boyhood) and near-transcendent (First Reformed). His choices behind the lens are equally eclectic, the only constant being Hawke’s curiosity, which affixes itself to the struggles of the creative process (The Hottest State, Seymour: An Introduction).

With Blaze, his fourth directorial effort, Hawke continues to nurture both his pet obsession and aesthetic and narrative experimentation, to solid effect. A chronologically splintered look at the career (a loose word) of little-known country musician Blaze Foley, the film is a mostly welcome respite from the expectations and constraints of the typical biopic.

There’s no gently traditional arc, the characters are as messy as you or me, and much time is spent following Foley (musician and first-time actor Ben Dickey) as he drinks, fools around in bed with wife Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat, fantastic), and idly strums his guitar.

It’s not that Blaze lacks tension or focus – it’s simply that Hawke is more fascinated with passion than profile. And here, that’s more than enough.

Blaze opens Dec. 14.