One thing that seems certain about today’s society is its obsession with “The Quick Rise to Fame” be it that of going viral on YouTube, or trying to become a Reality TV “Star”. Though technology has changed dramatically over the last 30 years one thing that hasn’t is the dream to make it big. Thus is the focus of director’s Nick Hamm’s film entitled Killing Bono based on Neil McCormick’s memoir, I Was Bono’s Doppelganger.
The film is about brothers Neil & Ivan McCormick played by Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian from The Chronicles of Narnia) and Robert Sheehan who had dreams to become the next big thing in the music world; one exception though, they grew up with a lad with the same aspirations. His name was Paul David Hewson and his band’s name was “The Hype”; fast forward to today and you would know them as Bono and U2.
Neil’s life unfolds as a cosmic joke where it seems to follow the complete opposite of his childhood pal. The film plays off more on Neil’s constant struggle to get away from the thought of “We should’ve been them” and the steps he is willing to take to make it on his own terms. On top of that idea there is a sense that he is simply doing this because of the guilt he feels over his brother Ivan. Before they played their first gig Paul aka Bono wanted Ivan to play lead guitar for his band which would have led to super stardom for Ivan. Neil told Paul that Ivan declined the offer without even mentioning to him, stating that family bonds were too strong to break.
The longer I watched the film the more I shook my head in disbelief at the choices Neil made “for the good of the band”; some his and some just bad timing where you just have to say “Really?!!?” Their first big gig in Dublin was thrown off by a visit from the Pope, in which Neil responds “I can’t believe the Pope fucked our first gig”, then when things seem to pick up again they’re trumped by one of largest concerts ever, Live Aid, where of course U2 played to thousands of adoring fans while Neil & Ivan rehearsed in a dingy London apartment. Once again when their momentum picks up you think luck strikes when Bono calls Neil personally and asks for him and his band “Shook Up” to open for them in Dublin, only to be responded with a No and “We would rather want to play in front of 500 of our fans instead of 80,000 of yours”. Too persistent on making it on his own his ego conflicts with the smart thing to do.
The film captures the emotions that run rapid in a band starting out perfectly. With each new horizon that emerges the inevitable fall follows. The film feels like a roller coaster with constant ups and downs, leaving the viewer to think “Jeez how worse off can they get?” The film brings me back to Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” where it captures the turmoil’s of a band and their ordeals. It’s in that world where the film captures its reality; this is life; for a chosen few that are lucky enough to “make it” others are left with the constant struggle of trying and often failing. That’s what brought director Neil Hamm to this story, his history of making films that weren’t always well received or box office smashes but his persistence to keep going.
The film’s momentum is definitely pushed by Neil’s decisions but the heart and essence of the film lies in his brother Ivan played wonderfully by Robert Sheehan. Although Neil is constantly struggling to make things happen, Ivan is the one who is always suffering. When it is revealed that he could have been a part of U2 or even opened for them in his hometown, it is no longer about failing to succeed but failing because of his own brother. It all boils over to the point that Ivan and the band kick Neil out when it’s discovered that he slept with their producer’s wife; an event that didn’t happen in real life but one that pushes the movie towards its third act.
It’s at this point where the story takes its own spin because as Nick Hamm mentioned to Neil “The problem with your life, darling, is that there’s no third act.” where Neil responded “That is because it’s a life, Nick.” Neil’s downfall leads him to a Mark David Champman-esque hunt for Bono, gun and all; once again not an event that actually happened, a realistic thought but one that Neil always shrugged off as angst.
Even though the film might sound like a drama it is actually quite funny. A lot of the scenes are carried with a light humor that never allows the viewer to fall into this depressed state of when will they get a break or when will Neil stop making such idiotic decisions. One character in particular would be Hammond their Producer played by Peter Serafinowicz (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead) who refers to the brothers McCormick as a “folk band with the rape song”; or after a fight before a gig just exclaims “Are you going to break up?” “Aaahhh fuckin’ great!” Another whimsical character is the overly flamboyant Karl played by the late Pete Postlethwaite (The Town, Inception, Romeo + Juliet) in his final role. Although known as a rough and tough actor he plays the role of Neil & Ivan’s gay landlord exquisitely, lending the boys a caring shoulder to lean on when times get too rough. He also has one of the best lines in the film in his final scene where he tells Neil “The measure of a man is when fame fades away.”
In the end I enjoyed this film a lot as it combined all its elements of triumph, failure, depression and humor very well; the music aspect is also fun as the soundtrack is a great listen. Nick Hamm’s connection to the story I think proved evident in the film as there is a bond you have to the character’s struggles and as an aspiring filmmaker it definitely got me. This is the seldom told story about the other guys who always wanted to be something bigger but never got there; it just so happens they were also friends with the biggest rock stars of our generation. In the end who knows because Neil McCormick’s claim to fame isn’t that he’s the biggest rock star in the world but rather he’s known for trying and inevitably failing. Neil mentions in his blog “As a deluded, fame-obsessed young man, of course, I never doubted that one day someone would make a film of my life. It just never occurred to me it would be a comedy.”
2.5 out of 5