Directed by Nick Hamm and adapted from Neil McCormick’s novel “I was Bono’s doppelganger” is an Irish film called Killing Bono. This is the story of Neil McCormick a school boy who wants to be a rock god. He has it all planned out, the legendary albums, the fans and the influence. But there is one thing that he hasn’t planned on; there is someone else in his class called Paul Hewson who has the same dreams and ambitions as him. This is the same Paul Hewson who later becomes Bono, lead singer of the biggest band in the world. Killing Bono is the story of the McCormick brothers and their one sided competition with U2.
Before I entered the cinema I had problems with this one, I tried to view it with neutral expectations but that wasn’t possible. That was because U2 play a huge part in this film and I’m bored by their very existence. The other problem I had was that this is a music biopic and I can say I have only ever enjoyed a solitary two – Walk Hard and Spinal Tap. The music biopic isn’t territory where greats dare to tread. Thankfully though, these initial ill feelings had a silver lining, a silver lining whose minds were behind comedy greats such as Porridge. TV legends Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais were on the writing staff plus the cast is very good.
The standouts for the cast are threefold – Peter Serafinowicz, Pete Postlethwaite and Robert Sheehan. Killing Bono has the unlikely honour of being the very last film that Postlethwaite starred in and he really does look gaunt, this is something that didn’t escape the director’s gaze. The character Karl who Postlethwaite played was intended to have a larger role, but it was downscaled due to his condition. Nevertheless Postlethwaite turns in a great final performance as a very flamboyant, retired fashion photographer. It’s a great comic turn from the late British screen legend.
Moving to the other end of the age spectrum we have Robert Sheehan, who plays the younger of the two brothers in Ivan. Sheehan continues doing what he does best; he is as quietly and consistently good as ever. Lastly there is Serafinowicz, who has done a lot of things I have really liked and in Killing Bono he continues this form. Serafinowicz plays the most outrageous character in the film, the music agent Hammond. Many of the funniest moments are born from Serafinowicz’s character. Everybody else is fairly nondescript, performing by the numbers and not being entirely memorable.
The worst offender of this is Ben Barnes, who plays the lead character – Neil McCormick. He isn’t exactly plumbing the depths of the human soul to bring you to bring his character to life; he is just reading some lines that he remembered. He does his job as well as is necessary for this film to have any semblance of likeability, but that’s it. Think of acting akin to a soap opera rather than a cinematic gem. That ideal is copied over into the writing, Killing Bono feels like it is a TV movie rather than a fully fledged one. I’m not saying this is a negative quality; it just lacks invention for the big screen.
A much more pressing problem for the script is the comedy. Thanks to impeccable performers like Serafinowicz and Postlethwaite, there are some very funny scenes. But as far as the comedy goes it seems that beyond the occasional stand-outs the remainder of the would-be laughs orbit around swearing and sexually childish jokes. Killing Bono is another example of the torchwood model of adult at work.
Unlike some recent comedy films that have infected our cinema screens there is alot more to Killing Bono than bad jokes: this is a comedy of errors, a drama, rather than a crass crowd pleaser. The drama all stems around the numerous bands that the brothers form, both at home in Dublin and in London once they get financed by local gang lord Danny Machin (Stanley Townsend). A menacing performance from Townsend, but is criminally ignored for great stretches of the film, therefore wasted.
But thanks to that start from Machin, they go from squalor to success but this journey is made all the more difficult by the elder of the two brothers who persistently makes life difficult for both himself and his brother. The elder McCormick makes some comically bad decisions that could only be made if you had annoyed the overlords of karma. It might be a comedy of errors, but instead of being funny it made the characters and their plight likeable, it worked like a drama. Through the drama, Killing Bono highlights the evils of the music industry, but above all else it is about the folly of artistic credibility. It’s not the 1960s anymore, we don’t have the likes of Andy Warhol making the marriage of artistry, success and credibility a viable career option and in that respect Killing Bono is a cautionary tale.
As patchy as the writing is, I have to close this review on negative – the ending was terrible. It tried it’s very hardest to sabotage everything that the film had achieved to that point. It felt like an afterthought and didn’t fit with the overall tone of the film. Nevertheless, Killing Bono may be a largely unfunny comedy, and be shot in a style akin to TV films but it still had plenty to say for itself, alot of which was good.
Notwithstanding the limited central performance this is still a likeable and charming film that spins a unique tale on the music biopic. It was a perfectly fine, enjoyable and innocuous piece of cinema that worked as a piece of escapism that took way beyond the cinema in which I was the sole occupant. It kept me entertained and gripped, so to that end I am glad I took the chance on Killing Bono.