Film Review: Killing Bono

Two brothers missed road to fame

The writing partnership of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais is among the finest this country has ever produced. On television their impressive credentials include such classics as ‘The Likely Lads’, ‘Porridge’ and ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’. They have also created screenplays for the cinema, including two hugely entertaining films about the music business, ‘The Commitments’ in 1991 and, seven years after that, ‘Still Crazy.’

Perhaps Clement and La Frenais are frustrated rock stars at heart as they have now returned to the same subject area for ‘Killing Bono.’ In common with ‘The Commitments’ and ‘Still Crazy’, this new film charts promising careers that are crushed under the weight of monumental egotism. This is, no doubt, a more common scenario than that of outright triumph.

‘Killing Bono’ features the McCormick brothers, whose inability to find fame and fortune as recording artists is especially galling since their old school friends turn out to be the formative members of  the band U2.  Ivan McCormick (Robert Sheehan) might well have ended up on stage with Bono and co had he known about the offer to join the group that his brother Neil (Ben Barnes) turned down on his behalf. This incident is the ticking time bomb at the heart of the siblings’ relationship.

Neil was so assured of his own talent, as well as exponentially bitter about the growing phenomenon called U2, that his judgement was decidedly clouded. Anytime opportunity knocked for the McCormicks, Neil had an uncanny knack of slamming the door in its face. His errors ranged from the foolhardy – such as scheduling a gig on the day of the Pope’s visit and therefore losing his audience to John Paul II – to the downright stupid – he turned down the offer to support U2 at a gig in Dublin.

So, as U2 become famous across the world the McCormicks struggle to get off the starting blocks. They travel to a London which is in the hideous grasp of the New Romantic Movement, get messed around by here today, gone tomorrow record executives and then, once they manage to build a following, come to blows whilst on tour.  All this would be bad enough but the boys are financed by a notorious gangster called Danny McCann (Stanley Townsend) who is deadly serious about making a profit on his investment.

‘Killing Bono’ is based on Neil McCormick’s generally lauded book ‘I Was Bono’s Doppelganger’ and the premise is a good basis for a feature film.  The problem is that somewhere along the line something has gone wrong. The filmmakers freely advertise the film as being a very nearly true story but what they have created is closer to cartoon- like farce.  Whereas ‘The Commitments’ had a certain earthiness to it, ‘Killing Bono’ is just loud and silly. The actors play their parts in as unsubtle a manner as possible with the lines virtually shouted at the audience.

The film has little time for quiet moments of pathos or recognisable humanity, even at the moment when Ivan learns of his brother’s arrogant betrayal. Consequently, it is hard to care for people who are caricatures rather than characters which is an issue when Neil McCormick comes across as a bit of a prat in the first place (I am sure he would agree with this judgment in hindsight.)

There is sex and drugs and rock ‘n ‘ roll in ‘Killing Bono’ but it is all too wholesome and clean when the reality was, no doubt, far scuzzier. There is a faint whiff of a film being tailored for a mainstream, international audience, perhaps a case of Richard Curtisitis. For a start, the lead is played by that well – known ‘Irishman’, London born Ben ‘Prince Caspian’ Barnes.  Then, there is the portrayal of London as a single street of never-ending black cabs and red buses. This is possibly comforting to an American audience but cringe – worthy to anyone who actually lives in our capital.

Surprisingly, given my opening paragraph, the biggest weakness in ‘Killing Bono’ is that it is only occasionally funny.  The finest wit from Clement and La Frenais is normally derived from three dimensional characters, so they are at a disadvantage here.  Furthermore, they had ‘additional writers’ on the script, so who knows what has been lost along the way.

There some brighter points in the film. Peter Serafinowicz is one, playing a ridiculous record executive. The late, great Pete Postlethwaite, his final role truncated by his illness, is also good as a camp landlord who takes more than a passing interest in the McCormick boys. In a quirk of fate, the actor gets one of the few touching lines in the film, which could well serve as his own epitaph.  “The measure of a man,” he tells the lads, “is what’s left when the fame falls away.”

U2 fans have need not fear, despite ‘Killing Bono’s sensationalist title, the man himself (played by Martin McCann) is never in any real danger and is treated with messiah – like reverence. What may disappoint the band’s followers is that U2’s music is heard only in snatches and instead we have the sounds of the various groups formed by the McCormicks. Not exactly ‘The Joshua Tree.’  Ironically, for a film which aims to be about the lost chances in life, ‘Killing Bono’ just comes across as one big missed opportunity.

Director:Nick Hamm
Cast:Ben Barnes, Robert Sheehan, Krysten Ritter, Pete Postlethwaite
Runtime: 114 mins
Cert: 15 (UK)

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.


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