Pirate Radio: Movie Review (2009)

11/14/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

Pirate Radio

Written and directed by Richard Curtis, 115 minutes, rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Everybody loves a good song. It can be a revelation, an escape, or just something to loosen up or dance to. "Pirate Radio," the latest comedy from British director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually"), is a (very fictionalized) story of one of many offshore vessels of the late 60s that stole the airwaves from the British government and played the music the public loved and the "Man" loved to hate.

Bill Nighy is Quentin, the captain of Radio Rock, a ship crewed by a group of DJs and music-lovers. Quentin's godson, 19-year-old Carl (Tom Sturridge), has been expelled from school and sent by his mother to live on the ship, hoping he'll learn a thing or two.

As Carl explores the seaborn radio station, the film introduces the ship's charismatic assortment of crew members. Among them are Dave ("Shaun of the Dead"'s Nick Frost), Simon (Chris O'Dowd), Angus (Rhys Darby, of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords"), and their fearless leader and the only American on board, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The crew eventually is rounded out by the arrival of popular UK DJ Gavin Cavanaugh (Rhys Ifans), a casanova who serves as friendly competition for The Count.

These are a group of people who live for music. They rebel against the very foundations of society and the people within it that threaten to silence them.

The film, similar to another romantic rock film "Almost Famous," is pretty episodic, and those episodes are hit-or-miss. Like "Love Actually," it follows its broad cast of characters through love, tragedy, absurdity and heartbreak, and though some parts can be just plain sappy and artificial, others result in a deft mixture of hilarity and real dramatic weight.

Though the sum isn't quite as good as the parts, however, the film does succeed due to its downright phenomenal cast, consisting of some of the best British actors working today, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (often channeling his rock critic character from "Almost Famous") gives one of his best and most entertaining performances. Nick Frost also gives a refreshingly well-spoken and suave performance, far removed from his typical dim-witted persona.

One major problem with the film outside its occasionally melodramatic nature is its inclusion of unnecessary and cartoonish antagonists. They are Government Minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his subordinate (Jack Davenport, who dealt with a different kind of pirate in "Pirates of the Caribbean"). They make numerous attempts to pull Radio Rock off the air. The two give admirable performances, but their over-the-top episodes provide little political insight and serve more as exaggerated comedic filler. The film would do just fine without them, and observing the conflict solely from the seas would have been far more interesting and fulfilling, especially since the movie is clearly one-sided from the very start.

Now, one could not truly consider this to be a film about Rock & Roll without, well, the Rock & Roll, and that is where the film really delivers. It has a real appreciation for music and has an absolutely stellar soundtrack, with songs from The Who, The Kinks, Leonard Cohen, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, and so many more--the music gives the film its heart and soul. Along with the great tunes, it also conveys the time and place extraordinarily well.

So, though "Pirate Radio" suffers from some overwriting and cliche, it's entirely memorable for an ensemble for the ages, a nearly unmatched soundtrack, and some hilarious and heartwarming material. It's not perfect, but like a good song, it's great escapism nonetheless.

Grade:  B-

View the trailer for "Pirate Radio" here:

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