Thursday, November 12, 2009

Movie Review: Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio ***
Directed By:
Richard Curtis.
Written By: Richard Curtis.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Count), Tom Sturridge ('Young' Carl), Bill Nighy (Quentin), Kenneth Branagh (Sir Alistair Dormandy), Nick Frost ('Doctor' Dave), Rhys Ifans (Gavin), Rhys Darby (Angus 'The Nut' Nutsford), Tom Brooke (Thick Kevin), Gemma Arterton (Desiree), Ike Hamilton (Harold), Chris O'Dowd ('Simple' Simon Swafford), Talulah Riley (Marianne), Tom Wisdom ('Midnight' Mark), Will Adamsdale ('On-The-Hour' John), Ralph Brown (Bob Silver 'the Dawn Treader'), Olivia Llewellyn (Wee Small Hours Margaret), Jack Davenport (Dominic Twatt), January Jones (Elenore), Katherine Parkinson (Felicity), Emma Thompson (Charlotte).

In the late 1960s, a golden age for British Rock N’ Roll, the BBC still held a dominance over British radio, and they barely played any popular music at all. So a few people set up “pirate” radio stations on boats in the North Sea, and broadcast 24 hours a day with the music that everyone wanted to hear. These radio stations were hugely popular, and were not technically doing anything illegal. But certain forces within the British government didn’t like them – they felt they promoted a hedonistic lifestyle – and were determined to shut them down. Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked tells the story of one such boat.

Curtis, the writer behind Four Weddings and Funeral and the writer/director of Love, Actually, is talented is at gathering a large cast of mainly British actors, and weaving their stories together. The Boat That Rocked is similar in that that regard, as the vast is huge, and impressive, and is really the reason to watch the movie. Curtis’s writing of dialogue is as always keen, but his storytelling instincts fail at times in this film – as key character motivations are left unexplained, and things seem to get shunted to the side almost as quickly as they are introduced. One of the problems is that there are so many characters, that few are able to become three dimensional. And yet, I would be lying if I said that The Boat That Rocked is not an entertaining movie from start to finish.

The film centers on “Young” Carl (Tom Sturridge), recently thrown out of high school who has nowhere to go, but through family connections ends up on the boat that broadcasts “Radio Rock”. The owner of the station is Quentin (Bill Nighy), an old friend of Carl’s mother, who quickly introduces Carl into the ways of the boat. There are no women on board – save for the lesbian cook – but that does not stop the entire crew of DJ’s from partying non-stop – indulging in pretty much every sort of indecent behavior you can think of. Once in a while, woman are allowed on board, and then the whole thing turns into a sort of orgy. Carl quickly makes friends with Doctor Dave (Nick Frost), a overweight guy that the girls still loves, Simple Simon (Chris O’Dowd), who is holding out from true love and the station’s premier DJ, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an American transplant who rules over most of the boat’s activity. There are other characters that filter throughout the boat, most notably Rhys Ifans as Gavin, who comes in a challenges The Count’s position as top dog. Although there are complications and heartbreak, life on the boat is good.

But Sir Alistar Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) hates Radio Rock and all other stations like it. It technically falls under his jurisdiction in the government, and he is determined to shut it down at all costs. Branagh plays Dormandy as a dowdy, uppity, stick in the mud, and he delivers what is without a doubt the best performance in the movie. In every scene he is in, you cannot help but laugh.

The rest of the cast it must be said is also good. True, Philip Seymour Hoffman is doing a version of his much better performance as a rock journalist in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, but he does it so well, that you do not care. The cast around them, made up mostly of familiar faces even if they are not huge stars, all fit together nicely. You believe them as this strange surrogate family.

Curtis at times lays it on a little too thick. I’m not sure we really needed the boat sinking, and multiple people risking their lives for the sake of the “music”, and we certainly did not need Bill Nighy pumping his fist at the camera near the end of the movie, nor Curtis’ cursory history of rock n’ roll since the late 1960s. But all of these are rather small quibbles. Overall, The Boat That Rocked is an entertaining movie from start to finish.

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