The Sundance Film Festival is always filled with surprises. The most common surprise is walking into a theater and making a discovery you never saw coming. Sometimes it is getting a kind of movie you weren’t expecting. On Thursday, I had one of the biggest surprises I can remember when watching the Northern Irish film Kneecap.
The best thing about going into a Sundance film is the little to no knowledge of what you are signing up for. Usually the only info shaping your expectation is a short paragraph description for the film. The short synopsis for Kneecap mentioned a young “anarchic” rap group helping to save the native Irish tongue.
What I was expecting was a fun musical film dealing with some political themes. What unraveled was an inventively crafted, frantically paced, adrenaline pumping ride.
At the end of the film I was blown away by what I had watched but I wasn’t prepared for the biggest surprise. Kneecap was in fact based on a true story about a prolific Northern Irish rap group and the actors on screen were the actual members.
Kneecap is written and directed by Rich Peppiatt. It follows the true story of the recent movement to save the Irish language and force into law its preservation. The movie starts as we follow two young men, with the opening frame on one who was raised by an IRA militant played by Michael Fassbender. The two, Liam (Mo Chara) and Naoise (Moglai Bap) get into their fair share of trouble with drugs, local town members, and the police. When their paths cross with a local music teacher (DJ Provai) everything hits the wall. The teacher stumbles onto their book of Irish hip hop lyrics and convinces the duo to let him craft some beats. The two relent and hit the studio where after falling heavy under the influence of certain stimulants some pretty incredible music comes out.
What follows from that is their sudden rise to notoriety. Their controversial lyrics mixed with the fact everything being in such an uncommon tongue creates quite the stir.
The hip hop trio becomes unexpected political activists while experiencing major pushback from the police and the IRA.
The film is a non-stop frenetic time capsule of the political unrest of Northern Ireland. The use of creative filmmaking and the inclusion and translation of the lyrics is creative and wildly entertaining.
The performances from all the leads, who are all musicians with zero acting experience is mind blowing. I was amazed when I realized this was the actual band and this really happened. Kneecap by far has been the biggest surprise of Sundance and one of the reasons the festival is so special. An inventive, original film touching on a very serious issue that not many people know about, but told in a way that is so accessible and so entertaining.
Sony Pictures Classic purchased the film as one of the first and biggest acquisitions of the fest. It will surely be seen and has the potential to be a cult classic.