Directed by: Richard Kurtis
Cast: Tom Sturridge, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh
Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins
Release Date: November 13, 2009
PLOT: A rogue group of rock and roll deejays are on the high seas outside of England keeping music alive. This is the story based in some fact of a “pirate radio” boat that inspired 1960s Britain.
WHO’S IT FOR? Do you like music? More specifically, the rock and roll that truly mattered? Then you’ll love this. Beyond that though, this film is filled with a great cast of characters that provide enough laughs for any adult to enjoy.
EXPECTATIONS: This is the director who wrote Notting Hill and directed Love Actually … but romance isn’t center stage. So I was hopeful, but not expecting much.
Tom Sturridge as Carl: Who’s he, right? After all, there’s a ton of bigger names than him. Yet he’s our lead and it works out well. The kid is in over his head when he gets on the radio boat. His mom sent him on the ship to straigthen him out, even though that seems very unlikely when surrounding by these deejays. We root for Carl to get the girl and grow up, even if he’d be one of the last ones we’d want to hang out with on this rocking ship.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Count: At first, it seems The Count is surrounded by nerds. Then we simply realize he’s the coolest of the pack. When Hoffman has a swagger, his extra large stomach just works to somehow generate more cocky power. Hoffman plays the American deejay who is willing to go down with the ship for his love of music. It’s amazing that we actually believe him.
Bill Nighy as character Quentin: Slick suit. Slick man. For looking like a walking skeleton, it’s amazing how much style Nighy oozes. Kurtis and Nighy are a great fit for bringing out the best in a character that is almost too cool for school, but somehow endearing as well (see Love Actually for another example).
Rhys Ifans as Gavin: Gavin swoops in and immediately starts pissing (almost literally) on The Count’s territory. They’re both the big men on campus. Ifans has no problem with an American accent, and takes command of the mic. He doesn’t get the fraternity feeling on the boat at first, which provides an enjoyable tension, and a great game of chicken with The Count.
Kenneth Branagh as Sir Alistair Dormandy: Normally a government official trying to stop the good guys is exactly where the film comes to a halt. Not with Branagh. He drops little lines like, “We have them on the ropes,” “Good, I love ropes.” It also helps his right hand man is named Twat (Jack Davenport).
Rest of Cast: Good lord, just too many actors to list in this one. Emma Thompson and January Jones give great cameos. Nick Frost as Dave uses his big belly to charm the ladies, but not as well as ladies magnet Mark (Tom Wisdom). The only one who gets a little repetitive is Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke). Rhys Darby continues to prove he’s annoying and funny as Angus. There’s even some heart with the loner Bob (Ralph Brown) and his desperation to cling to the things (records) he loves.
TALKING: They make the F word matter. It had an edge at one time in our society, and while The Count is on the radio there is a perfect exchange between him and Quentin that shows pushing the envelope has its place and its consequences. Plus, they make the time spent on the radio very enjoyable as well.
SIGHTS: I thought I was going to get claustrophobic. I didn’t. That’s big for me, considering I still am annoyed I didn’t sit at the back of the theater for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It’s a great atmoshphere and it seems like the cast gets a real kick out of occassionally pretending to be on the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise during an attack.
SOUNDS: They care. They get it. They know what made music hum along back in the 60s. Pirate Radio doesn’t just go for the obvious with The Rolling Stones, though they are present as well. John Fred & His Playboy Band sound great with “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)”, The Turtles and The Kinks are great as well. There is constant music playing and unless they came out with a 4-disc soundtrack, it won’t capture the impact the music plays in this film.
BEST SCENE: Simon’s stag party pretty much seems just like an ordinary day for the boys on the boat, right? But that’s when this movie is at it’s best, with the boys being the boys. Plus, this leads in to seeing January Jones. Enough said.
ENDING: Titanic? Yup, but it works. The film suddenly becomes bigger but it doesn’t seem out of place when the boys must work to survive instead of simply play some kick ass music.
QUESTIONS: It really kills me, but why in the world did they have a paddle boat reach Radio Rock at the same time as the other boats? That’s just impossible, right? Plus, the personalized fan boats coming to the rescue is a little cheesy.
REWATCHABILITY: I’m looking forward to a second viewing, and can’t wait to see what extras will be on the Blu-ray. I’m hoping they can add a documentary about some of the real-life experiences this film is slightly based on.
Ensembles are tough, but I now feel safer in Richard Kurtis’ hands than any other director, especially when he brings along a pile of British talent. This film should reawaken baby boomers to a time that matter. Radio mattered. The personalities that brought us the songs mattered. I’m too young to experience this first hand, but that’s exactly what Pirate Radio is for. It may be a compliment or a no-brainer, but it’s the best deejay movie since Good Morning, Vietnam. They bring the joy of rock, without any truly annoying attitude. It’s a little more of a boys’ club, and when are treated somewhat like a prize, but they are deejays, it fits. Plus, there’s just enough tension and twists to also enjoy the tale of a teenager trying to find himself while surrounded by some of the best and worst role models.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10