Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)

It's one thing to dream of musical stardom and quite another to make it happen. Even for the most determined and talented of artists, a certain amount of luck comes into play. And for the two brothers at the heart of Nick Hamm's affectionate and genial comedy Killing Bono, another burdensome element is involved: their high school pals became U2.

Based on a memoir by Neil McCormick, the film takes liberties with the true story, but gets at the heart of recognizable musical aspirations and frustrating character flaws. Neil (Ben Barnes) and his younger brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) are aspiring artists, though it's Ivan who has the greater potential as a guitarist. Paul (Martin McCann), one of their high school friends, points out a notice advertising for musicians, and signs up to audition, as does Ivan. That spurs Neil to form his own band. Paul's group starts enjoying a measure of local popularity, and he tells Neil that they want Ivan to join. Neil is determined to forge his own path to success, and turns down the invite on Ivan's behalf, though he doesn't tell Ivan about it. A little later, Paul and his bandmate Dave announce they will henceforth be known as Bono and The Edge, and their band will be called U2.

The rest is history, as far as U2 is concerned, but Killing Bono stays with Neil and Ivan as they struggle to make a name for themselves in the confusing, constantly shifting world of 80s British rock music. Seeking to gain a foothold, Neil agrees to a contract with a gangster, which emboldens him to break up the band and move to London with the reluctant Ivan. They move into a loft apartment in a building owned by Karl (a lovely turn by Pete Postlethwaite in his last performance), with Gloria (Krysten Ritter), a beguiling American, as a neighbor.

Musically, Neil and Ivan have a good measure of talent, though their career is stymied by bad luck and, especially, Neil's poor judgment. They snag the interest of Hammond (Peter Serafinowicz), a record label hotshot, but he's canned before they can sign the deal. Rod Stewart's manager hears one of their songs and wants his man to record it, but Neil refuses on the basis of artistic integrity, to the outrage of Ivan. They're barely scraping by, but Neil stubbornly harbors the dream that they're destined for musical immortality, that they will become bigger than U2.

The sticking point is Neil's hell-bent determination to become "bigger than U2." Ivan would be perfectly happy if they could make a living as working musicians, and doesn't appear terribly interested in stardom, in and or itself. In his quest for fame, Neil apparently leads Ivan and his bandmates through various iterations, none especially original. True originality, or the ability to express himself lyrically or musically in a personal fashion, eludes Neil, and causes him to chase one fashionable musical trend after another. And if you're at all familiar with 80s British pop and rock music, that leads to some dodgy choices indeed.

All of this is told with a light touch by Hamm, who has previously made period romance Talk of Angels and the twisty thriller The Hole, among others. He elicits good performances from Barnes and Sheehan, who sparkle as brothers who are close friends, even if some of Neil's decisions rankle Ivan. When their relationship is put to the test, it's handled in a way that feels entirely authentic.

And that can be said for the film as a whole, an enjoyable affair with a pleasant degree of resonance. Some of the kookier excesses of the 80s music scene are recreated lovingly, and the core ideas -- the continuing dreams of stardom, even when they remain frustratingly out of reach -- are achingly, hauntingly familiar.

At least most of us can listen to U2 without the gnawing, specific thought, "That could / should have been me."

Killing Bono is now available via various VOD platforms. It opens tomorrow in New York at the AMC Loews Village 7 and on November 11 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and Laemmle Town Center 5. Check the official site for more information.

Killing Bono

  • Nick Hamm
  • Dick Clement
  • Ian La Frenais
  • Simon Maxwell
  • Neil McCormick (book)
  • Ben Bond (additional writing)
  • Ben Barnes
  • Ralph Brown
  • Jason Byrne
  • Sam Corry
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Nick HammDick ClementIan La FrenaisSimon MaxwellNeil McCormickBen BondBen BarnesRalph BrownJason ByrneSam CorryComedyMusic

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