Although it doesn’t quite live up to the provocation of its name, Killing Bono is a funny look at the underbelly of fame. Based on the memoir by Neil McCormick, the movie charts the life of a band that so desperately wanted to rise from the ashes of the 1980s Dublin rock scene.
Neil (Ben Barnes) and his brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) are classmates of two guys who put together a band and called themselves U2. Before they were christened Bono and The Edge, the McCormicks used to jam with the good old Irish boys, playing gymnasiums and deadbeat bars, hoping to be the next big thing.
The story, which continues to this day, should be familiar to most fans of rock music. U2 emerged from Dublin and took over the world, while the McCormick brothers faded into obscurity. But although they never reached the heights of their Irish brethren, Neil and Ivan gave it the old college try. They secured financing from a gangster (a very funny Stanley Townsend), flew over to London and rented a warehouse-like apartment from an old man who enjoyed sex and drug parties (the late, great Pete Postlethwaite) and even scored somewhat of a local following.
But Neil and Ivan always lived within the gargantuan shadow of U2. They looked up at the posters and sold-out concerts and dreamed of similar success.
Killing Bono is a breath of fresh air when it comes to movies about the music industry. Too often we need to endure rags-to-riches biopics that add nothing new to the public canon. We know the highlights and the lowlights, so why bother with a cinematic version?
Killing Bono is different. It’s a rags-to-rages story, and by viewing U2 from afar, we get the chance to see the other side of the fame equation. When nobodies become somebodies, there’s bound to be old friends left in the dust. Neil and Ivan are these people, two talented musicians who can never be in the right place at the right time.
The acting in the film is spot-on. Barnes and Sheehan are likable, annoying and perfectly young and stupid. They look the parts and sound the parts, and without these two talented actors, the movie would probably fall apart. Peter Serafinowicz has many funny moments as an unconventional record executive, and Martin McCann is skillful as the contemplative Bono.
The writing by Dick Clement, Ian Le Frenais and Simon Maxwell is snappy and often hilarious. Nick Hamm’s directing style is grungy and quick-paced, very much mimicking the music from the era. Perhaps Killing Bono’s best feature are the musical performances by the McCormick brothers. They call themselves Shook Up!, and although they’re no U2, the songs are catchy and played with an earnestness by the talented actors.
It’s a wonder how a quality film like Killing Bono could be overlooked for expansive distribution in the United States. The recently released DVD from Arc Entertainment luckily preserves the 114-minute movies, adding in a behind-the-scenes featurette and theatrical trailer.
We all know that Neil McCormick didn’t actually kill Bono, and pegging the movie’s central conceit around a botched assassination attempt seems contrived and exaggerated. Still, watching this forgotten singer’s descent into nothingness is oddly (and perhaps selfishly) rewarding. As Neil and his brother make mistake after mistake, it’s hard not to be entertained by their failure.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Directed by Nick Hamm
Written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Simon Maxwell
Starring Ben Barnes, Robert Sheehan, Krysten Ritter, Peter Serafinowicz, Stanley Townsend, Martin McCann and Pete Postlethwaite
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use