Flashing back to 1970s Ireland, lax journalist Neil (Ben Barnes) is eager to set up a band of his own after rival Paul “Bono” Hewson (Martin McCann) joins high school rockband The Hype. Using his relationship with Bono to ensure his younger brother’s (Robert Sheehan) rejection from the band, Neil and Ivan instead set up their own group, quickly falling into The Hype’s – now U2 – ever growing shadow. Borrowing money from the local gangster (Stanley Towsend), the McCormack brothers move to London where they begin a near-year-long search for a willing record label. Despite finding an albeit lesser success with producer Hammond (Peter Serafinowicz) and band Shook Up!, Neil continues to undermines his own luck – manipulating his own downfall and endangering already strained relationships with his label, his girlfriend (Krysten Ritter) and with his long-suffering brother.
While you immediately want to praise Robert Sheehan, the Misfits star has to be one of the most charismatic young actors working today, his incredulous and endlessly sympathetic Ivan is almost too easy to root for. Far more surprising is the pathos, humour and humility that Ben Barnes brings to the character of Neil. Essentially a selfish and jealous dreamer – verging on delusional, the egoistical acts of deception and betrayal carried out by Neil McCormick should be enough to turn the entire auditorium against his plight, and against the movie in general. Rather than dislike his luckless loser, Barnes’ brings a vulnerability and desperation to Neil that fully acquits a narrow minded attitude and distractingly flappy manner.
Once again fuelling the suspicion that I may be the only human being on this planet – other than Pierce Brosnan, of course – who can’t sing, director Nick Hamm lets Barnes, Sheehan and McCann karaoke their way through Irish pop history. While Neil sets about writing songs about rape and ‘existential angst’, and U2 provokingly confess that they still haven’t found what they’re looking for, the film’s soundtrack is inextricably tied to the character motivations and plot. They could really be bandmates, with their aspirations and inter-relations filling the void between stock band member and human being, creating an exhilarating and massively uplifting amalgam of truth and fiction.
A welcome extension of this is the haunting presence of Bono in the movie, lending credence to Neil’s obsession and growing Bono-complex. Continuously told that they may be “the next U2”, mishearing their landlord’s (a delightfully camp encore for the late Pete Postlethwaite after The Town’s gritty unlikeability) inquisition as to “how long have ‘you two’ been together?” and their rival’s massive billboard presence somehow managing to earn sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
This is Killing Bono’s finest strength. While it mercilessly sexes up Neil McCormack’s memoir Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger, Hamm’s film never loses its own solid grounding in reality. Its reality, that is. Yes the gangster, Bono’s butter-wouldn’t-melt persona and the unrealistic rapidity of U2’s fame may require a certain suspension of belief, but as soon as you disregard the source material and take Killing Bono for what it is – a bizarre odd-couple comedy and (most importantly) a movie – the plot takes on a relentless fluidity that leaves you feeling like you’ve just reached the bottom of the very best of waterslides: thrilled and entertained, ready to go again.
And when I say bizarre, I really mean it. From the bonkers wardrobe – Lorna Marie Mugan is either incompetent or ingenious (I suspect the latter!) – to Barnes’ wild gesticulations on stage, this is a film that makes an instant and lasting impression. It raids genres almost as often as it raids wardrobes, with a wonderfully eclectic mix of comedic, dramatic and borderline farcicle elements that conspire to create a surprisingly fulfilling and poignant narrative, showcasing its stars abilities beautifully. That it does this whilst maintaining a delightfully heightened tone is testament to the abilities of screenwriters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, who tread the line between fact and fiction with endless finesse.
Raw and more than a little rough around the edges, Killing Bono is an unassuming, yet simultaneously larger than life tale of self-distruction that goes beyond the call of duty to round out a surprisingly honest relationship and tether its more extreme elements with moments of genuine poignancy. You can have your Source Codes and keep your Sucker Punches, as Killing Bono satisfied all of my own cinematic needs with a verve and bombast that never ceased to entertain.