Killing Bono (review)

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In Dublin in the late 1970s, a bunch of guys who fancied being rock stars even though they couldn’t play a lick of music formed two bands that developed a friendly rivalry. One of those bands went on to become U2. This is the story of the other band. Or, more specifically, it’s the story of Neil McCormick, the leader of the other band — which would go by various terrible names over the years of its nonsuccess — and how his pride and stubbornness were the biggest stumbling blocks to the fame and fortune he dreamed of. This is one of the most painfully funny movies I’ve ever seen: painful because I was laughing so hard at a story that plays like a satire on rags-to-riches clichés even though it’s mostly true; it’s based on the real McCormick’s memoir, Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppelganger [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]. But also painful because, while I was laughing, I was also aching for Neil and his bittersweet inability to see that he is his own worst enemy… and for how he himself aches with all too much awareness of the love-hate relationship he has grown into with his old high school friend Paul, whom the rest of the world now knows as Bono. It all works as well as it does because of the marvelous Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) as Neil, in a role of far more maturity and complexity than we’ve seen him do on film before; I’m delighted to see that my sneaking suspicion that he is a talent to be reckoned with turns out to be true. The rest of the cast is fantastic, including Robert Sheehan (Season of the Witch) as Neil’s brother and bandmate, Martin McCann (Clash of the Titans) as Bono, the always hilarious Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead) as a music manager who hates music, and Pete Postlethwaite (The Town), in his final role, as London landlord and pal to the McCormick boys. But this is Barnes’ show, and he steals it effortlessly. He even does his own singing, and quite catchily, too. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the tune “Where We Want to Be” does almost sound like a lost early U2 song. I ran to download it from iTunes as soon as I left the screening. Granted, I also ran to listen to some U2 as well. Sorry, Neil.

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