7 April 2011


It's kind of well known that one of my pet hates at the cinema is biopics about musicians. It's not that I don't like music, or that I don't like musicians. The problem is that different people's lives seem to fit the same old template, the same old cliches, and the kind of things that the excellent but underrated Walk Hard- The Dewey Cox Story expertly skewered.

So it's a good thing that Killing Bono is not a story about that most self-satisfied and untouchably nice guy whose name is part of the title. Instead, it's about the McCormick brothers, Neil and Ivan, who grew up in Dublin with Paul Hewson. All three boys want to be famous musicians, and Paul offers Ivan a shot at the big time when his band is on the rise. Neil insists that the brothers will go their own way, and Paul styles himself as Bono and goes on to form a little band called U2. Meanwhile, Neil and Ivan try to carve their own path to the big time.

Killing Bono comes from the pens of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the legendary British writers behind sitcoms like Porridge and The Likely Lads, who've nowadays turned their talents to making British features like The Bank Job and Goal! Thus you can expect that it's safer than the slightly suggestive title would imply. There's no leap into the hyper-reality of an Inglourious Basterds, but you can also expect something different from the norms of the sick and tired music biopic subset.

All the same, we're looking at the real story through two filters. First off, as with any adaptation, it's going to have been manipulated to make it to the big screen. And secondly, it's adapted from the real Neil McCormick's memoir, I Was Bono's Doppelgänger. Not that I'm saying McCormick would be an unreliable narrator, I'm just saying that it's one person's perspective. With respect to the author, I imagine fewer embellisments were made between the reality and the page than between the page and the screen.

Post-Social Network, I'm obviously not going to be a stickler for the truth, all of the time. The embellishments here seem obvious whenever they occur, and like the protagonist, I got sick of hearing about what a great guy Paul Hewson was, is, and continues to be. Martin McCall plays Bono as such a nice fella that it didn't surprise me a bit to see the first closing title card give special thanks to the man himself, amongst others. It feels like a cynical telling of the story, contingent upon Bono's sporadic appearances in the McCormicks' lives for it to function. Whatever the reality was, I'd have preferred to have seen less of Bono the character once he eclipses his old mates.

In the early parts of the film, I was quite enjoying it, but perhaps not in the way I was meant to be enjoying it. It's surely meant to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh at it often- the best running gag involves the feckless Neil constantly booking concert dates for his band that happen to clash with massive and distracting events, i.e. Live Aid. I also occasionally chuckled at Peter Serafinowicz as a foul mouthed and slimy band manager, but it feels like the material is very dry after a while, and so I found myself tiring of the film.

Killing Bono boasts the first decent performance of Ben Barnes' career that I can remember, and a likeable supporting turn by Robert Sheehan, put to much better use here than in Season of the Witch. But so much of the meat is their relationship, which operates on the same sort of big brother, simple brother dynamic as Fletcher and Godber in the writers' series Porridge, that it feels like it's running on empty after almost two hours of watching it. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a film that depicts a similar struggle in a way that is much more enjoyment, without the need for exaggeration or embellishment. This is mild stuff, but I can imagine actual budding musicians enjoying it more than me.

Killing Bono is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Killing Bono, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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