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Killing Bono Review

By Geoff Morrison

Failure? Success? Just words?

Killing Bono
Director Nick Hamm had an interesting take on the reception of his movie, "Killing Bono", with American versus British audiences. It was his opinion that the average Brit accepts, possibly even expects, failure. A sort of fatalism that, yep, everything is probably going to go pear shaped, so don't be surprised when it does. But with Americans, and our chronic Horatio Alger optimism, the mere mention of failure is like a cancer. We don't want to hear about it, much less think about it.

This is probably why I didn't really like "Killing Bono", Hamm's "tribute to failure."

At its core, that's exactly what this is. There is no Hollywood payoff, where the plucky kids do make it. "Killing Bono" is the marginally true story of how one guy didn't make it, and repeatedly almost did.

The incessant self-destruction of anti-hero Neil McCormick borders on absurd, until you learn it's largely true. That doesn't make it any more enjoyable to watch. Unlike drug-fueled personal conflagrations, this holds none of the entertaining catastrophes. Throughout the movie, McCormick never misses an opportunity to enthusiastically bungle something up.

During a scene where he turns down the opportunity for his fledgling band to open for U2, you just know it he's going to tell Bono "no." There isn't much drama in the scene as much as there is painful annoyance.

Maybe this does have to do with being an American. Despite our foibles, we're a nation of inveterate optimists. So to watch a movie that revels in constant failure is not only not entertaining, it's uncomfortable. I could feel no connection with the main character, despite how well he was played by Ben Barnes. I couldn't relate to someone who so effortlessly buggers up every decision in his, and his brother's, life.

But is it a good movie? Separating out my mild dislike, I can't say it is. The humor in the circumstance, so clearly lost on me, is what holds much of the movie together. So when there is clever dialogue, or outright comedy, they come from out of the blue. These moments do work though, and if they weren't there, the entire film would drag. It's still pretty slow, but the excellent period costumes and sets keep it going.

Another aspect that keeps you watching are some fantastic performances. The late, great Pete Postlethwaite as a quirky gay landlord, is excellent. Robert Sheehan turns in a performance every bit as good, but more varied, as his work on the excellent British show Misfits. I'd watch Krysten Ritter read a phone book, and perhaps she'd have been better off doing just that. She's given so little to do here, her character could disappear completely and the movie wouldn't be affected in the slightest. That's not good writing.

"Killing Bono" isn't a bad movie. In fact, it explores the real definition of success. To Ivan (Sheehan), just touring the country performing for fans is enough. To Neil, not being U2, their childhood friends, is enough to eat him alive.

So maybe it is the secret optimist in me, the part that doesn't believe in a Kobayashi Maru scenario, the part that does believe we'll all be richer and have more free time in the future. It's that part that felt so uneasy watching this comedic laudation of failing.

The funny thing is, the movie could have been played that way, as a story about remaining optimistic in the face of such unremitting failure. Because that's apparently what Neil is. He apparently still believes that he'll get signed, now, at 50+.

But it doesn't. It remains upbeat, but celebrates failure not as a means to something else, but celebrates failure as failure, and that's where I can't play. In the end, through every fault of their own, and some not, that's what these characters end up being. Failures. No happy ending. No redemption, no "but they're happy, look, a kitten!" final title card.

It's not depressing, but I just believe that's bollocks.

At least, in the movies.

What did you think?

Movie title Killing Bono
Release year 2011
MPAA Rating
Our rating
Summary A reasonably successful movie about unreasonable amounts of failure.
View all articles by Geoff Morrison
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