Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pirate Radio (2009) – Review

Pirate Radio, or as it is known in the UK The Boat that Rocked, is a film more about the music and time period it is set in than the characters that populate it. This is both the strength and the weakness of the film. As a film about 1966 Britain, it excels in its montage of images across class representing the changing tide, with the music serving as the soundtrack to the transition. Kenneth Branagh’s character seems to be a caricature of what one could call the “old guard”, ridged, shown only in neat, yet dreary settings, awfully awkward, almost unable to adapt. It is a contrast that works well in endearing the culture and characters on the boat, yet the juxtaposition sometimes gets in the way of the story, trying so hard to show the opposing forces depicted against one another, the flow feels interrupted at times. However, the story is not the point, nor the characters; it is the budding attitude, with the music being at the forefront as its expression. The film then works better as a social commentary. Not to say there are not enjoyable characters and character moments, because there are, but the film is not about the growth of any character, minus the sub-plot of a young man coming of age, but that too takes a backseat to the era. The film, like its ending, while threatening to the characters directly, is more about the coming together of people and the prevailing of the music and the culture supporting it, the birth of the revolution. Richard Curtis has taken an ambitious approach to the subject, structuring it so that the era in which the film takes place is the main focus, rather than a character navigating in the era and some may not connect for this reason. But for those able to just experience the film, it is embedded throughout with perfectly placed music (which is essential, no?) and overall is a good time at the theatre. Technically, the achievement of the film goes to the fine work of production designer Mark Tildesley, who created fantastic sets and the contrast between the government types and the boat DJs, as well as the many telling shots of the listeners which were needed to really understand and get a sense for the era. The ensemble cast also was good, highlighted by the always wonderful Bill Nighy (Curtis again using him in a similar vein to Love Actually), Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans. Nick Frost and Rhys Darby add comic relief, as do newcomers to American audiences Chris O’Dowd and Tom Brooke. Pirate Radio is a film more about the era and the music, but both of those are entertaining, and so is the film. 7/10

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