Movie Review – Pirate Radio (2009)


Writer/director Richard Curtis, who’d brought us Love Actually reproduces its formula but places us on a boat during the 1960s.  Much like in Love Actually, we have a huge variety of actors playing characters that may or may not be important to the story, but they’re there and they entertain us and they fill in the gaps usually left by silence.

The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an American DJ that lives on and transmits from Radio Rock, a boat stationed in the North Sea that illegally transmits Rock ‘n Roll all day and all night to millions of British homes.  His co-pirates include Quentin (Bill Nighy), the flamboyant and funny producer; Dave (Nick Frost), a hilarious and intelligent co-broadcaster; Gavin (Rhys Ifans), the drug addicted legendary DJ who toured America and has returned to his roots, broadcasting aboard Radio Rock; and a slew of other funny and strange personalities played by actors Rhys Darby (from “Flight of the Conchords”) and Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson (from “The IT Crowd”).

The main plot is very basic and centers on Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), a British minister whose sole task is to shut down Radio Rock by any means necessary and stop them from broadcasting evil Rock ‘n Roll to the whole of England.  Branagh plays his character ridiculously over the top and manages to annoy the audience early on, which is a bad thing because he doesn’t portray a “good” type of bad guy but rather an irritating one.  Hoffman on the other hand is awesome as the laid back DJ, and a very cool guy in general and the rest of the cast are simply there to have fun and entertain.  And they do that very well.

A secondary storyline follows Quentin’s Godson Carl (Tom Sturridge), who had come to live with him on the boat and learn harsh and entertaining life lessons.  We follow Carl throughout the film and he is our eyes.  We meet the crew through his perspective and stick with him until the very end.  We, through Carl even fall in and out of love. There are little side stories that happen here and there, like Simon (O’Dowd) marrying a woman he’d just met and having her live with him aboard Radio Rock only to find out that she had a fling with Gavin months back and that she had simply wanted to be as close to him as she could, and another in which Carl finds his real father living aboard, but by that time it seems like the 20th story development within the 2 hour running time.

Having a lot of plot points inserted here and there can grow bothersome.  Also, something that really irked me is that the Branagh character doesn’t need to exist in this film because he’s there for not more than a collected 20 minutes and because the third act doesn’t need his assistance in progressing the way that it does.  Try throwing his character into the film Titanic and see if it makes a difference.  Regardless this is a really entertaining film, one filled with cool or funny characters that are having fun and love sticking it to the man.

This movie is about Rock ‘n Rock as much as The Departed is about circus clowns, although the commercials would have you believe that it is simply because it takes place during the Rock ‘n Roll era of the 1960s.  We get many montages showcasing 1960s cars, clothing, and interior wallpapers, and we constantly need those reminders that the film takes place during that time period because most of it takes place aboard the boat; however, it succeeds in evoking the setting through the music played throughout and the art direction.

I don’t love this film but I don’t dislike it in any way.  One can’t compare it to the standard romantic comedies that Hollywood spews every which way and that’s a good thing in itself.  I like this film for what it is, I like the cast and that clearly they had a lot of fun filming it, and I like Hoffman, Ifans and Nighy’s performances; they are what fuel the film and the boat.

3 stars

2 responses to “Movie Review – Pirate Radio (2009)

  1. Interesting enough, the American release has 20 minutes cut from the Brittish release and the soundtrack changed. Also the movie was called The Boat that Rocked.

  2. Yes, that’s true. The version I watched was “The Boat That Rocked” and it was over 2 hours, which is the way I like it. If it’s longer there’s more room to investigate and gather info. >_0

    The music was good, though. Too bad the movie had nothing to do with it.


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