Saturday 17 September 2011


Starring Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan, now on DVD and Blu-ray is this tale of rock stardom gone wrong. Check out the trailer and read my review, next...

Neil and Ivan McCormick have spent their lives working on many different musical acts, from Punk band The Undertakers to folksy The McCormick Brothers to 80’s guitar band Shook Up. The slow and steady progress of these two Irish musicians would seem impressive, if not for the runaway success of their former schoolmate Paul Hewson, probably better known to everyone in the entire world ever as Bono. Living in the shadow of U2’s success, frontman Neil McCormick longs to make it on his own and land a record deal, turning down the help of his old friend in place of accepting funding from a local gangster who expects a strong return on his investment.

I’ll be honest, I’m not what you’d call the biggest fan of U2 and found the idea of watching the life story of Ireland’s most famous rock band a pretty dull proposition. Thankfully this biopic’s different target, namely the bitter, twisted and jealous mind of one of Bono’s old school friends, makes for a much more appealing underdog story. It’s less of a case of ‘U2’, and more of a case of ‘them also’. Based on the memoirs of rock journalist Neil McCormick, Killing Bono charts the period in the 80’s where Bono’s boys were met with incredible success whilst McCormick and his younger brother Ivan were forced to schlub their act around London, hoping to find a record deal. It’s unsurprising that the script comes from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the same people who gave us the similarly anarchic snapshot of band life that was The Commitments.

Anchored by a strong, lively lead performance from Ben Barnes (with a flawless Irish accent), Killing Bono shows a man with all the guts, bravado and talent to make it, but one who seems to have missed all the breaks. McCormick might be keen to make it on his own, but he’s a man of mixed integrity. He’ll decline the assistance of his rich and famous school friend but have no qualms about seeking help from a gangster, all whilst keeping it secret from his long suffering brother.
To be honest, U2 don’t feature too heavily in the film (but kudos to Martin McCann for delivering a fairly accurate Bono impression), but the looming spectre of their success is ever present. As the McCormick brothers, Barnes and Sheehan are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Bono’s flashy, show-off globe-trotting Hamlet. There’s a couple of gems among the supporting cast, namely Peter Serafinowicz’s ridiculous record label head and Pete Postlethwaite’s bohemian landlord. Clearly in ill health whilst filming, Killing Bono has the unfortunate distinction of being Postlethwaite’s last performance.

It’s a shame Krysten Ritter’s character ends up being nothing more than a one note love interest, particularly after the sparky intro she’s given. All of the sass she shows soon melts away into an average ‘I’m with the band’ groupie. You can’t blame her for not giving the part her full attention really, they can’t even be bothered to spell her name right on the DVD cover.
It’s hard to say whether U2 fans would appreciate this film or not. It certainly doesn’t make Bono out to be a bad guy, but it’s short on U2’s music and doesn't quite express just how big the little band from Ireland were in the 80’s, choosing to provide most of its exposition via a series of billboards and a clip from Live Aid. Perhaps it can be appreciated as an affectionate time capsule of the era, particularly when you consider how popular Bono, etc continue to be. The film captures the mood of the 1980’s well, along with affectionately ribbing some of the more ridiculous parts of the culture; the hair and the clothing being obvious easy targets.

It's a shame that Robert Sheehan's Ivan never fully embraces the rock star persona, as he's at his best when he's playing an egomaniac (see Misfits Nathan for proof); but thanks to Barnes' lead performance Killing Bono ends up being a perfectly passable if somewhat predictable rock fable. Ignore the (obviously false) provocative title and you’re left with rock biopic that offers all the ups and downs, highs and lows, excesses and successes of being in a rock band, and with a story that’s far funnier and more interesting than a straight U2 biopic would ever be.


Special Features - Nothing of note. Not even the trailer.

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