It’s only rock and roll.

In the 1960's the island of Great Britain was in grave peril. It was, apparently, impossible for the most upstanding British Subject to walk down the street without being subject to the distressing sounds of rock and roll music. Evidently the only sound louder than the musical nuisance were the cries of "Good GOD!" and the crack of countless monocles as they crashed to the once peaceful streets.

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"I really must stop being QUITE so horrified!"

As a result, at a time when Britain was shaping the musical landscape in a way that the rest of the world would be following for years rock and roll music was nowhere to be found on the British airwaves. The only avenue for this genre defining music was through pirate stations that operated on ships off the coast of the island.

This is the world presented in "Pirate Radio."

What you have here is a great idea, a great cast, and an amazing soundtrack that all spend a great deal of time spinning their respective wheels in an effort to find direction. This isn't a bad movie, it's just a confused one. You are presented with some great ideas that are underdeveloped and abandoned, scattershot plotlines, and character relationships that are not defined or developed. In short, I left this movie not really caring about what happened.

The movie begins with flashy title cards that catch us up with the basics. No rock and roll on the radio, and pirate stations operation to the dismay of the government. So the powers that be do the only thing they can do. Hell, they do what any sane and logical person would do in the same situation. They bring in Kenneth Branagh, whose shock with the abomination that is rock and roll is so intense he switched to glasses to avoid the mounting cost of monocle replacement.

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His character is so British, he literally SHITS THE QUEEN.

What I expected, rightfully so based on the previews, was the story of the station fighting government oppression to give the people the music they loved in the name of freedom. And I kind of got that. The problem here is that there isn't any direct mention of the government action until just about the one hour point. So what you do get is two stories that are kept almost completely separate. Branagh fumes and tries to intact laws, because as he says, "That's the beauty of government. If you don't like something you just make it illegal." The people on Radio Rock play music, party, and form a dysfunctional family. There is no direct interaction between those stories so there really isn't any tension throughout.

The direction is very slick and there are some really good visual touches. All of the boat scenes feel much warmer than the sterile, washed out Branagh scenes. The director finds a way to move the camera ever so slightly on the boat to give the feeling of the tide. The editing is tight from a visual standpoint, but the story could have used a bit of tightening for this to really work.

The Branagh story is the most direct and formed. He has a purpose and a goal. You see him work around setbacks, connive, and push until he is able to achieve is goal. His relationships and interactions all make sense and work towards that goal and he is set up as the perfect foil for the shenanigans aboard the Radio Rock ship.

Saying that Kenneth Branagh delivers a good performance is not only unnecessary, it is a bit stupid. He's Kenneth FUCKING Branagh for Christ's sake! When he orders a pint the barkeeper tears up. That's what the man does. This is, however, an interesting performance as it allows him to do some very difficult comedy. There are a few very obvious jokes, his assistant is a man named Dominic Twatt, and for some reason hearing one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our time say the word "twat" never becomes unfunny. The impressive bits are the "stiff British upper lip" emotionless scenes that he plays to perfection. It's nice to get some different shades from Kenneth.

The rest of the cast acquits itself well, but you don't really get much new from them. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great as usual, but his performance feels like a cooler version of Lester Bangs from "Almost Famous." Bill Nighy does a great mix of his characters from "Shawn of the Dead," and "Still Crazy." He stands out because he is the only person who could play this part, and he somehow pulls off feeling completely fresh, and a little bit of retread at the same time. I enjoyed Rhys Ifans' performance as the wildly popular enigmatic Gavin Canavagh, the greatest pirate DJ who ever lived. Nick Frost does a good job at creating a character removed from his brilliant turns in "Spaced," "Shawn of the Dead," and "Hot Fuzz."

I call this film frustrating because you have these, and other, solid performances floating without a rudder. Things move in one direction and you think that is where the story will go, then the director seems to get tired and moves it in another without tying that story up. I'm not saying that every move needs to fit a formula or that there is only one way to tell a story, but if you have a bunch of threads that you create well enough to get people interested in, and then don't go anywhere with them it will piss your audience off.

There are about three different movies in here. There is Young Carl, who seems like the protagonist, sent to the ship by his legendary rock chick mother (played brilliantly by Emma Thompson), you have the government vs. rock and roll story, and you have a DJ rivalry story (there is a kind of heartbreaking plot involving a marriage that takes up a bit of time, but doesn't really go anywhere). Had these episodes been treated as full stories instead of just fragments you could have had a really outstanding film. Instead, what you are left with is a bunch of decent set ups that don't really go anywhere set to a really kick ass soundtrack.



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