james debate
james debate

Sunday 29 November 2009

Directed by Richard Curtis
Written by Richard Curtis
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Hilary Bevan Jones
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 135 minutes

This latest film from Richard Curtis, the man behind such British classics such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones and Love Actually, as well as sitcoms like Blackadder and Mr Bean, tells the story of how a pirate rock and roll music station from the 1960s rebelled against Government repression and changed the world.

pirate radio boat that rocked

In past reviews Richard Curtis has mentioned popular music to be his true passion, so it comes as little surprise to see him at the helm of Pirate Radio (titled "The Boat that Rocked" in the UK), essentially a love letter to rock and roll. Indeed it comes as a departure from his recent films of which almost all deal with the doomed romantic endeavours of a poor simple everyman, typical rom-com fare, and frankly I see this as a good thing.

On the surface this film has everything it needs to be an utter classic: a great setting aboard a rock and roll party boat in 1960s England, one of the best soundtracks ever created full of 1960s rock classics, a seasoned director (Curtis) who is simply best in show when it comes to the britcom genre, and an utterly fantastic ensemble cast featuring some of the funniest people on the planet. However, it manages to fall just short of 'absolute classic' status.

Pirate Radio is loosely based off of real life events, specifically the famous Radio Caroline which broadcast from the North Sea at a time when the BBC monopolised radio industry frowned upon such frivolities as rock music (then again I'm 21, so most of that comes from Wikipedia). This story follows "Young Carl", woodenly played by Tom Sturridge, who following expulsion from school is sent onto the Radio Rock boat owned by his godfather Quentin, played absolutely perfectly by the always criminally underrated Bill Nighy, in order to find himself. Fortunately we quickly learn that this film is a true ensemble piece, and that Carl only plays one of many central roles.

He is joined on the boat by "The Count", a big brash American rocker played by oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, who as I'm sure many of you know is one of the finest actors alive right now. There is Gavin, the sexy superstar DJ played by Rhys Ifans, a fantastic comedian, and a top notch comedic actor as I can attest to as someone who has seen him perform on the London stage, probably best known in the cinema world for playing Spike in Notting Hill. We have Dr. Dave, played by the unmissable Nick Frost, who having initially launched himself onto the scene as Simon Pegg's cheeky partner in crime has now fully cemented his big screen cred with this role. And of course I've already mentioned Bill Nighy, playing his typical smarmy old bastard role to perfection.

Meanwhile stiff upper lip government types are looking to shut down Radio Rock for polluting the innocent minds of British kids with their filth, led by Kenneth Branagh flexing his considerable acting chops by playing a complete text book caricature of stiff authority types. Perhaps a bit too textbook though if you ask me. And he is supported ably by Mr. "Twatt", played with aplomb by Jack Davenport, who no doubt people will recognise as Commodore Norrington from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as more recently playing a key role on the tv show Flash Forward.

It speaks to the amazing strength of the cast that you also have smaller roles played by Rhys Darby, who many will recognise from Flight of the Conchords, as well as recent Jim Carrey film Yes Man. He's a fabulously talented comedian who is rightly starting to become a known entity in the business. Meanwhile Chris O'Dowd also deserves much acclaim for his performance as "simple" Simon, the breakfast DJ, who delivers one of the more multi dimensional and nuanced performances of the show and is really quite impressive.

I've been going on about the cast for a long time now, and really it's because they're all brilliant performances. The movie is absolutely a pleasure to watch with such an excellent cast, and especially with the rocking soundtrack and exuberant energy Curtis imbues the project with. The problem is that he doesn't do this quite enough.

The original British cut of this film is over 2 hours long (although this has now been cut down for Americans), and while there are a number of ball tighteningly fantastic bits, mostly at times when the music is playing and people are rocking out, there is a lot of filler which features few laughs and a severely depleted energy level. Most of these scenes can help you through simply on the charisma and awesomeness of the actors on screen, but by the end you'll be feeling a little tired, right when the big endgame setpiece starts to take place.

It's also a problem that while this is a very charming and enjoyable film, it's perhaps not consistently as laugh out loud funny as one might expect. This is ok by me as I enjoy a good character piece, but elsewhere in the film, Curtis makes the conscious decision to skirt over all serious subject matter. Major conflicts between characters are resolved in like 3 seconds with a pat on the back and a laugh, and for a movie that's all about rock and roll and piracy, edgy topics like drug abuse are only lightly touched on. Curtis holds back on the real belly laughs, and yet shies away from any form of deep thinking, and the result is that the movie feels slightly lightweight.

Ultimately though, none of this ruins a thoroughly enjoyable and easy watching film. What it lacks in straightforward laughs it makes up for with great characters, buckets of charm, and a heavy dose of awesome. It rocks, plain and simple, and you probably won't have more fun watching any other film this holiday season.

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