Friday, 19 February 2010

Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Year: 2010
Director: Mat Whitecross
Screenplay: Paul Viragh
Starring: Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Olivia Williams, Ray Winstone

Plot Synopsis is here

Despite not being a massive fan of Ian Dury (no dislike, just haven't heard enough of his music), I strangely remember the first time I heard hit me with your rhythm stick in it's entirety and when the man died (both on the radio inside my fathers car). There are other artists I've admired that have died, and yet I cannot place myself when I heard the news. I guess there was something about this guy, something truly unique.

Mat Whitecross' colourful biopic enforces my feelings of this man. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (which I will call SDRR for short) is a chaotic and kinetic film which felt like a combination of Bronson and 24 Hour Party People. It suffers from the usual rise and fall elements of the musical biopic particularly within the films last act. But before that you have a dense and well told story of a man who learns from the very start that no matter what the stakes (Dury was stricken with Polio in his years which left him near paralyzed down his left side), a man must stand up for himself and forge his own way in life if he wants to go anywhere.

The film sets itself up nicely with one of it's first lines of dialogue: "don't let the truth get in the way of a good story". Once those lines are uttered, then the film is given poetic license to play a little loose with the man's life. Accuracy is secondary to enjoyment and for the most part, it works exceedingly well.

Whitecross structure certains scenes in such a way that they may not have happened at the said time as one another, but they heighten the emotions within the film. Also considering this is a musical biopic, Whitecross restrains from making the same mistakes that U.S biopics make; punctuating every high or low point with one the artists songs that sums everything thing up with a faux neatness. Keeping focus on the story at hand, the direction manages to get right under the characters skin. As does the the films script (By Paul Viragh), which is personal, plot heavy (in a good way) and full of cleverly crafted dialogue. The kind that reminds us of how well Dury placed words together. Many craftier cinephiles may complain that the film isn't the "collage" that Serkis mentioned on the radio 5 Kermode Film podcast earlier this year, and runs on rails in terms of overall structure but compared to other biopics, I doubt they have has much energy as shown here.

Direction and writing aside, the film is lead by a cocksure and mesmerizing performance by Andy Serkis; a criminally overlooked actor who once again shows his range with a dead on performance of Dury. It's one of those whirlwind turns, that can sweep a viewer up with it's feverish intensity. Serkis completes the mixture of performer, screenplay and direction to give us a character who is fully formed and complicated. It's just as easy to dislike this character as it is to fall for his charisma and although the film follows the formula often, the films last moments to feel like a cheap vindication. Your left with a portrait of a man who could equally hurt as hard as he could entertain. Compere this to the glossed over moments that inhabit solid, yet flawed movies such as Ray and you realize how easily the glitz can distract.

I should mention more about the films supporting cast, but I won't in case of boring you with my praise for all involved. What I will say to finish up is that SDRR is exactly what I want from a musical biopic. Kudos is deserved for all involved and recommended for all with a love of music and film.

Hear me rave about this at Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online