Film Review – Killing Bono

Killing Bono

By Dave Woodhall.

Let’s get the obvious line out of the way first. Sadly, this isn’t a documentary. It’s a straightforward feature film loosely based on a true story – two Dublin classmates start bands and dream of rock’n’roll stardom. One makes it effortlessly to become the world’s biggest and most annoying frontman, the other has an equally natural talent for spectacularly blowing every opportunity that comes his way. Anyone who remembers the Commitments will find Killing Bono familiar, although there’s less obvious Dublin iconography or stereotyping this time round.

Played convincingly by Ben Barnes, Neil the unlucky rock casualty is asked by Bono at the start if his guitar-playing brother Ivan can join U2. Wanting to keep Ivan in his own band Neil refuses, and the catalogue of catastrophes is underway. The brothers’ band gets their first showpiece gig – it’s on the day the Pope plays a bigger venue in Dublin. They move to London and get offered a deal – then the record company sacks the man who wants them. They form a new band and stardom beckons – a Dublin reporter turns up and tells Ivan the story about Bono as they’re about to start their first tour. Sacked from the band in some sadly unconvincing scenes, Neil goes from bad to worse, goes out of his head and just when the film seems to be edging to a predictable conclusion it picks up again.

Apart from Ben Barnes there are some quality performances, not least from Stanley Townsend as a gangster staying just the right side of menacing and Pete Poslethwaite, playing the brothers’ gay landlord in his final role. Good though he is, you can’t help thinking he deserved a more fitting send-off. Martin McCann, meanwhile, provides a wise, forgiving and loyal Bono. With the band and their manager thanked individually in the credits he could hardly be anything else.

The middle drags noticeably; the whole thing could have done with some ruthless editing and anoraks will have a field day with the factual errors – I doubt there were many 14 year old Clash fans in 1976 Dublin and the first U2 album came out a year after the Pope toured Ireland for starters. There’s also a tendency towards caricature, both in characters and towards the whole rockbiz lifestyle but the film also nails mid-eighties music and fashion well enough. It’s that contradiction that best sums up Killing Bono. I’ve rarely seen a film that’s so good in parts, and so poor in others, and a film that was so superficial on almost every level yet left me with so much to talk about.