Pirate Radio (2009)
Starring: Tom Sturridge, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy
Directed and Written By: Richard Curtis
There is something missing today: a feeling of rebellion. Sure, we are butting heads politically (all over nonsense, I might add), but where’s the social upheaval? Where’s the stuff our parents hate and we love? It’s a good thing that there are movies being released that at least recalls a time in which there was a divide between the generations. Richard Curtis’ Pirate Radio is one such film. Pirate Radio isn’t so much about a battle between the generations, but of railing against the status quo of the British government and the power of rock and roll.
To say Pirate Radio (known as The Boat That Rocked in it’s native United Kingdom) is about one thing would do it injustice. At it’s core, it’s based on the real life story of radio DJs who played banned rock and roll from a boat off the shore of England. However, it’s such an ensemble that there are several stories going on at once. There’s Young Carl (Sturridge) being sent by his former sexpot mother (Emma Thompson) to the ship to join his godfather Quintin (Nighy), who owns and runs the ship/station. There’s the coolest guy in the room The Count (Hoffman), an American who’s status of leader of the DJs is put into question with the return of the very popular Gavin Cavanagh (Rhys Ifans).
These along with one Sir Alistair Dormandy’s (Kenneth Branagh) crusade to shutdown these pirate radio stations make up the meat of the story. The rest of the DJs are a crazy bunch in their own right. From the overweight womanizer Doctor Dave (Nick Frost), the spineless Simple Simon (Chris O’Dowd), the good looking and mysterious Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom), the older hippie Bob Silver (Ralph Brown), and the brunt of all the jokes Angus Nutsford (Rhys Darby). They all have their own stories, but it’s mostly about the coming of age of Young Carl (including losing his virginity on the ship) and Dormandy’s heartless quest to shut the radio station down.
As with several movies I have seen lately, the story isn’t anything unique. However, the chemistry between the actors lead to many funny scenes (and the entire cast in genuinely hilarious). There are some rather touching moments such as Carl saving his father (he’s one of the DJs and no, I won’t say which one he is) as the ship is sinking and when two of the non-DJs on board cheer up Carl after the girl he falls for sleeps with Doctor Dave (of all people) as Carl was off trying to find a condom. When Carl discovers the two together is one of those moments that are surprisingly tough to watch. This along with Simon getting married and divorced in 17 hours (not funny, I assure you), makes Pirate Radio more than just your basic comedy and it’s better off that way.
Richard Curtis does an able job in his direction and his story contains some very memorable characters. It seems as if he brought these actors together and got out of the way (a very smart thing to do). As stated before, the cast has great chemistry with one another and it really seems like they’ve been out in the North Sea together for years. Hoffman is the star as his Count is really the coolest person in the film, including continuing to broadcast even as the ship is sinking. Frost and company provide the laughs (even if some of the things they do are morally reprehensible at times). However, as is often the case with ensemble movies with wacky characters such as these, Sturridge’s Young Carl is the ground for which we the audience can watch the film unfold. He goes from a quiet and not very confident young man to growing up and becoming one of the guys.
Pirate Radio would just be a decent movie, however, if not for it’s stellar soundtrack. This is one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. There is not a single bad song played during the entire duration of the film. If you like ’60s rock music, you will love this music in this movie. Not only are the songs great, the choices Curtis makes for which song to play during pivotal scenes is just outstanding. Afterall, if you were banned and told to stop playing music by the government, would you play anything other than The Who? I didn’t think so.
Bottom Line: While Pirate Radio themes are nothing new, there’s a great deal of energy and it’s easily seen just how much fun was had while making the film. The performances are all good and the soundtrack elevates the movie to heights it wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Still, it’s a good movie with ebbs and flows that are unexpected: it’s funny, heartbreaking, and touching. Never underestimate the power of music.