The 11th Belfast Film Festival kicked off on Thursday night with a screening of "Killing Bono", a comedy film based on Neil McCormick's memoir "Killing Bono: I was Bono's Doppelganger" following the misfortune of two Dublin brothers who eternally live in the shadow of U2, their former schoolmates. The film was introduced by director Nick Hamm, head of the festival Stephen Hackett, and actor Martin McCann (who plays the titular character, albeit in a supporting role). Each man spoke of their pride at producing this piece of work in Northern Ireland, but by and large the focus of each of the introductions was on actor Pete Postlethwaite, who made his final screen performance in this project before passing away several months ago. Pete's death, however, did not cast a cloud over this event. Rather, it added a level of prestige to the proceedings that such a respected, talented actor would commit to a Northern Ireland Screen production for his final role.
While the cast is solid, with Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan leading the charge as the McCormick brothers Neil and Ivan, respectively, the film as a whole is hit-and-miss at times. To sum it up, Neil and Ivan attempt to launch a music career as they consistently playing second-fiddle to U2, struggling to progress beyond dance halls and strip clubs while U2 experience a meteoric, global rise to stardom. The main dramatic drive of the film is Neil's self-motivated decision to prevent Ivan from joining U2, thus condemning them both to years of trying to succeed despite squandering their golden opportunity, a fact which Neil neglects to tell Ivan. From here we see the desperate lengths Neil will go to in order to prove that he was right to prioritise fraternal loyalty, with McCann's Bono appearing from time to time, serving as an inescapable reminder that Neil can never quite get it right.
In light of this plot summary, it is surprising that "Killing Bono" has been marketed as a comedy. The strength of the piece lies in two key relationships, the first being the brotherly rapport, and the second being the emotionally charged bond between Neil and Bono. The film's satire of the music industry, as well as the presence of a farcical gangster character (played by David Fennelly), both feel quite uneven and at times unnecessary, mostly because neither elements are at all original. Also, a romantic subplot involving Neil and Gloria (played by Krysten Ritter) never quite gets off the ground.
Aside from this, the film does a good job of keeping the audience entertained for the better part of two hours. The mix of an original score and signature U2 hits works well, and the historical detail (ranging from clothing and hairstyles to LP covers and Live Aid footage) is faultless. Even more impressive is Hamm's ability to mask Northern Ireland locations for scenes set in London and Dublin. As for the main cast: Barnes is riveting as the tortured protagonist; Sheehan is heartfelt and shows great promise; McCann is as effortless yet controlled as he is in every performance; and most importantly Postlethwaite is a pure delight. His character, the McCormicks' effeminate and flamboyant landlord Karl, appears sporadically but never fails to light up the screen, and at this premiere screening, the public affection for Postlethwaite was readily apparent.
Whether or not you are a U2 fan, "Killing Bono" is well worth seeing. No, you won't be howling with laughter, but you will surely be rooting for the McCormicks to succeed, despite knowing that this is a story about all those people who didn't get the golden ticket to stardom.