Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Star is Not Born: Killing Bono

When they were first starting out, even U2 did not know they were U2. They thought they were The Hype. After a name change and few breaks, they had left their school mate Neil McCormick’s band behind in the dust. Having convinced his younger brother to stay in the family band rather than join with Paul Hewson, soon to be known as Bono, McCormick’s guilt demands his band eclipse U2, but his self-defeating impulses make that rather unlikely in Nick Hamm’s Killing Bono (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

One day, a teenaged Hewson joined the band Larry Mullin was forming. They are still together. They wanted McCormick’s brother Ivan as second guitarist, but McCormick vetoed the idea without passing along the invitation. He did not lack for confidence, but ability was another matter. Frankly, the McCormicks have decent pop-rock skills, particularly Ivan, but whenever they are poised on the brink of modest success, Neil’s monster inferiority complex scuttles their efforts.

Based on McCormick’s memoir, I was Bono’s Doppelganger, Killing can be downright uncomfortable to watch. Unfortunately, it is also all too believable. Considerably more talented musicians than McCormick have compulsively sabotaged their careers. However, the title and the allusions to John Lennon’s murder book-ending the flashback-narrative are somewhat deceptive. The film is not really that dark.

Serviceably helmed by Hamm, Killing nicely recreates the vibe of the 1980’s, providing some nostalgia for those who grew up when MTV played music videos. Despite the obvious pitfalls of the role, Martin McCann is surprisingly effective as Bono, humanizing the iconic celebrity in several telling scenes, while convincingly capturing his physical presence and mannerisms. However, the rest of the band (including The Edge) gets somewhat short shrift, appearing only briefly in subservient supporting roles.

It remains debatable whether Neil McCormick’s epic futility can really carry a picture, but Ben Barnes certainly tries his darnedest. He is quite credible both rocking-out on stage and angsting-out in private. Conversely, his attempts to develop romantic chemistry with Krysten Ritter (playing his manager Gloria) are rather weak and perfunctory. Sadly, Killing is also distinguished as the final film of the late great character actor Pete Postlethwaite. Alas, Karl the queenish landlord is largely written as an all too familiar stereotype, but the ailing Postlethwaite seems to enjoy portraying his flamboyant naughtiness as a change of pace from his heavier roles.

While a bit of the bickering McCormick brothers goes a long way, their story memorably conveys the tenor of the time. Playing with and against audience expectations, Killing is all about failure, consistently judging its protagonist in the harshest of terms. Despite the many outrageous situations McCormick finds himself in, it is more of a lament for a rock & roll purity that never was, than an outright comedy. Recommended to the 1980’s generation for its compelling wistfulness and McCann’s subtly turned work as Bono, Killing opens Friday (11/4) in New York at the AMC Village 7.