wastes this potentially interesting tale of Ireland’s great rock wannabes. Performances aside, the film entirely misses the mark, writes Donald Clarke
EVERY HACK in the country will be seeking a U2 song title to summarise the subject matter and quality of this much-hyped adaptation of Neil McCormick’s memoir concerning chronic Bono envy. Is the film, ahem, Even Better Than the Real Thing? Not really. Does it move in Mysterious Ways? Not so as you’d notice. Do you know what? I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.
If you think that joke’s awful, you might want to avoid Killing Bono. Sadly, there is a U2 tune that sums
the piece up quite nicely. It has a three-letter title and was famously performed at Live Aid. (Work it our for yourself, folks.)
There are the makings of a good film in McCormick’s yarn. As the chaotic result tells it, Neil (Ben Barnes), a sometime journalist for Hot Press, grew up with the future superstars. He and his brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) also formed a band, but, as the years progressed and U2 soared, McCormick’s troupe – post-punk chameleons in the high NME style – never quite escaped the bargain bucket.
Neil’s anguish was coloured by guilt. In the early days, U2 had asked him if Ivan might like to join their group, but, arrogant and ambitious, the protagonist never passed on the message to his brother.
Far be it from us to tell veteran screenwriters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement what sort of film they should have penned, but one can imagine the project working as a post-Nick Hornby tale of male angst. What we get, however, is a fitful, noisy romp that never settles into a comfortable rhythm.
When McCormick’s band relocate to London, they are forever bumping into colourful characters and encountering hilarious misunderstandings. At times, Killing Bono, with its shoddy sets and shambolic plotting, comes across like a British sex farce from the 1970s. At others, it resembles far, far too many recent Irish crime comedies. Is there an “amusing” crime boss with a series of eccentric habits? There is and, despite being gallantly played by the mighty Stanley Townsend, Big Micko (or whatever he’s called) breaks no new ground in this undistinguished field.
The actors do deserve praise. Though woefully under-directed (when three or more characters share a scene they tend to stand in a rigid line as if aping an early U2 publicity shot), everybody does his or her best with the unconvincing dialogue. Barnes fashions a good Dublin accent. Sheehan preens and struts to tolerable effect.
The excellent Martin McCann is due particular sympathy. Being asked to play Bono is rather like being asked to play the Cliffs of Moher — the sacred icon is always going to tower over the performance, however adept. McCann gets the voice just right. He has that disconcerting confidence. But the film-makers’ fear of giving offence fatally neuters the role. Romanian representations of Nicolae Ceausescu during the Soviet era were more willing to poke fun.
It’s hardly worth pointing out how skewed is the film’s view of Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, but we’ll do so anyway. Is that a strip club I see? What’s this with U2’s debut album being touted as the soundtrack to the Pope’s visit, when in fact it was released a full year after those sacred events in the Phoenix Park? Why is everyone talking as if they’ve just sat through a marathon viewing of The OC?
Such things matter because they contribute to the overwhelming sense of phoniness that hangs around Killing Bono. If it were funny, the lack of authenticity wouldn’t matter. If it were authentic, then the doleful dearth of humour would, well, matter somewhat less.
Hang on. Wasn’t there a U2 song called Lemon?
Destined for higher things: Martin McCann as the man formerly known as Paul David Hewson