Stream In: a review of PIRATE RADIO (2009) ten years later

By Josh Morris

Upshot: According to IMDb, Pirate Radio (2009) is about “[a] band of rogue DJs that captivated Britain, playing the music that defined a generation and standing up to a government that wanted classical music, and nothing else, on the airwaves.”

High-point: The soundtrack. The film is laden with tracks from The Beach Boys, David Bowie, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Turtles, The Who and more; as opposed to using these songs simply to present the film as set in the ’60s, they are used to establish the personalities of the various DJs as well as enhance the events on screen. Peak rock’n’roll becomes more than just a gimmick to make the film more enjoyable (although it does that as well).

Low-point: The uneven climax. After the British government finds a legal avenue to prohibit pirate radio stations, the Radio Rock ship inexplicably starts to sink in the frigid North Sea. Perhaps not wishing to sour his comedy with any tear-jerking antics, writer/director Richard Curtis decided it better to keep things lighthearted even while the motley crew awaits certain death. This film didn’t have to be Titanic (1997), but it didn’t have to be void of emotion either. Sure, the film overall isn’t dark, however, Curtis missed the opportunity to use captain-goes-down-with-the-ship as an allegory for an artist facing the grave because of their passion. Or their demons.

Rundown: The rebellion in the 1960s against rigid social structures is smoothly captured here and speaks to my younger self who, like the fun-loving Brits of the ’60s, was forbidden to listen to secular music, celebrate sex/sexuality or imbibe any “ sinful substances.” The film’s criticism of overly-powerful (and/or conservative) governments ignites the songwriter in me who sees censorship as a looming threat needing containment.

It is a pure delight, always, to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman work his magic. While this will never be one of his more memorable performances, it was thrilling for me to once again see him in a starring role for the first time. I haven’t had that experience since watching Capote (2005) the day Hoffman died. Actually, the whole cast – including Rhys Darby, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, and Chris O’Dowd– agreeably brings to life this ensemble of fictional outlaw DJs.

Pirate Radio isn’t as funny as Walk Hard (2007) or as hard-hitting as Lenny (1974) but is still a worthy endeavor. It’s as likable as Curtis’ other films Love Actually (2003) and About Time (2013). I’ve been meaning to watch this film for a decade; I’m glad I finally did.

This film is currently available to stream on HBO NOW.

Score: 5/7

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