Pirate Radio Review


Sometimes, a film doesn’t have to be deep or thought-provoking for me to really enjoy it. Despite the fact that most of my positive reviews are of dark, depressing stuff, I’m still a fun guy. I enjoy a good comedy every now and again. That’s exactly what “Pirate Radio” is – a thoroughly enjoyable love letter to the music of the 1960s. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but there was a smile on my face from the moment it began to the moment it ended.

The film takes place in the late 1960s when rock and roll is banned on the UK airwaves. But a number of degenerate “pirates” sail offshore and broadcast rock to over 20 million people all day and all night. The focus of the film is “Radio Rock,” a station run by Quentin (Bill Nighy). He’s surrounded by a colorful cast of DJs, including The Count (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Gavin (Rhys Ifans), Dr. Dave (Nick Frost), Simon (Chris O’Dowd), and Bob (Ralph Brown). There’s also Carl (Tom Sturridge), Quentin’s godson who got kicked out of school and sent by his mother (Emma Thompson) to Radio Rock in order to have Quentin watch over him. Carl is a virgin, so the goal of the DJs is to get him laid – not an easy task when women only board the ship every two weeks and everyone around him is sex-crazed and moderately famous.

Meanwhile, Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) – a Cabinet member who hates everything rock and roll – has made it his personal goal to outlaw Pirate Radio. As he says, the point of government is to find things you don’t like and then make laws which make those things illegal. So he hires Twatt (Jack Davenport) to find some sort of loophole by which the House of Commons will ban Pirate Radio.

The main reason “Pirate Radio” succeeds is because it rarely loses its focus on the music. It does meander a bit in terms of plot, but even during some of the less successful segments, the soundtrack is perfect. These characters are rock stars in their own right. They give a big middle finger to authority, and they don’t take anything seriously or too personally (expect maybe when one character sleeps with another’s new bride). The music helps keep that rock star theme going throughout the film, even when it tries to tackle other things.

The film is on less sturdy ground when it starts going into the personal lives of the characters. Rock stars are supposed to be kept at a distance. Some of the more intimate details of their lives are messy and turn you off. I didn’t really care about Carl’s search for his father, nor did I care for the constant sleeping around with one another’s girls. The segments with Dormandy and Twatt are also largely uninvolving. We don’t know enough about them to make them interesting characters, so the time spent with them simply distracts from the fun on the boat.

Still, I never stopped having a good time while watching this film. Director Richard Curtis, who also directed “Love Actually,” clearly knows how to make a crowd-pleaser. He doesn’t need to do much in the line of style; he just tells a fun story, and lets the actors do the rest.

In terms of acting, the best of the bunch, unsurprisingly, is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His performance doesn’t match some of his best, but it’s not that kind of film. The Count is incredibly charismatic – a leader amongst those at Radio Rock. Bill Nighy is also terrific. He’s not as funny as he was in “Love Actually,” but it’s a similar role, and the actor slides into the role effortlessly. The weak link in the cast is Tom Sturridge. He’s arguably the film’s lead, but he doesn’t have the requisite charisma to pull of the performance.

“Pirate Radio” had a troubled journey to the big screen. It was released in the UK under the title “The Boat That Rocked” (a better title in my opinion), but audiences and critics alike were lukewarm at best about it. It was re-cut for American audiences, but it still flopped at the box office. Despite that, I really enjoyed the film, and I think most people who give it a chance will enjoy it too.

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