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Pirate Radio (2009) – Movie Review

Pirate Radio movie poster

Written & Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Sturridge, Rhys Ifans, Chris O’Dowd, Nick Frost, Katherine Parkinson, Jack Davenport

My Advice: Matinee.

It’s 1966. And apparently you can’t get rock on British radio. Well, not the normal radio stations. While the government has an apparent stranglehold on the “legit” airwaves, there’s at least one station that’s decided to take to the open seas. Radio Rock, headed up by Quentin (Nighy), sits off UK’s shores on a large boat and broadcasts. They not only have an array of colorful and personable DJs, but they even imported one, The Count (Hoffman), from America. Trouble is, everybody seems to enjoy Radio Rock except for certain members of the government: Minister Dormandy (Branagh), for example, and his assistant Twatt (Davenport). They plan to shut down offshore radio by hook or by crook or both, if necessary.

[ad#longpost]The best way to approach this movie is twofold: first, it’s a Richard Curtis movie. So you can expect it to be fluffy in the same way that you can expect a Roland Emmerich film to spit in the face of physics. Secondly, it’s a Richard Curtis movie about rock and roll…and not just about it, but a love letter to the music of the era and the freedom and joy it brought…and still brings. In fact, the film’s a lot like a good rock song: not overly deep, but a lot of fun and you can dance to it.

In fact, going along with this, it’s less of a narrative than a collection of little character pieces for the ensemble to go through. If not for the on-shore machinations of Branagh and Davenport, that’s all it would be. (I half-expected Branagh’s character to mention to Davenport’s “We picked you because I understand you have some degree of experience with…Pirates.”) But you need “villains” so you can have a bit of conflict outside the main ensemble and also it sets up your end. But again, it’s the movie equivalent of a rock song, so it’s easy to handle.

Of course, if your cast sucked, you wouldn’t care about the character bits and then the film would deflate. On opposite sides of right and wrong are Bill Nighy, who I’m convinced is perfect in every film the man steps in, and Branagh, who is having a lot of fun being Evil. Our passport into the world of Radio Rock, Carl (Tom Sturridge), is decent enough but let’s face it: he’s there to be the passport and not much else, so he could be played by most any young actor. The other standouts are Chris O’Dowd, whose character bit is particularly well done, and Rhys Ifans, who plays the rock star DJ to the hilt. Also of note are Hoffman, who seems to be enjoying himself, and Nick Frost, who is also enjoying himself and also gets rather nude.

The music of the film is all excellent and picked very well: listen for the soundtrack to constantly provide commentary on what’s happening. The soundtrack, if it had everything in it, would be huge. There were many screens full of song info.

The film isn’t perfect but it’s not mean to be. It’s just funny and fun and with a crapload of great British comedian/actors getting on screen to enjoy themselves. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then a matinee would do you good. If you have a good sound system at home and are watching your pence, then DVD will do nicely.

Note: The film in the UK was originally entitled The Boat That Rocked, and normally I’m for staying with original titles wherever possible…but Pirate Radio is just a better title.

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