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Review: Pirate Radio (2009)

Pirate Radio (2009)

Directed by: Richard Curtis

Premise: Based on a true story, a pirate radio station broadcasts rock and roll music from a boat anchored offshore of the United Kingdom at a time when rock was forbidden on British airwaves. Members of the British government try to shut down the pirate broadcasters while the crew of the boat discover the highs and lows of rock and roll ideals of freedom.

What Works: Pirate Radio is a fun film that celebrates the joyfully anarchistic side of rock and roll. The film uses upbeat music selections, creative edits, and a mix of wit and crude humor to maintain a light tone and keep the narrative on the go. Pirate Radio shows significant influence from Monty Python in its goofy characters and play on British sensibilities. This is best embodied by Kenneth Branagh as the government official tasked with shutting the pirates down and at times his character plays as though he were right out of the Ministry of Silly Walks. The film has some well done, if brief, interpersonal relationships and rivalries, most notably between radio hosts The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Gavin Canavagh (Rhys Ifans) and between young Carl (Tom Sturridge) and older disc jockey Harold (Ike Hamilton). These relationships help give the narrative some shape and the actors provide a human appeal to Pirate Radio that makes it more than just a collection of musical montages. There is a contemporary relevancy to the story of Pirate Radio, as these disc jockeys harness the power of mass communication technology and use it to subvert the establishment. In the age of consolidated media ownership as well as the rise of independent online broadcasting, the story of these 1960s rebels has renewed meaning.

What Doesn’t: Pirate Radio does have a weak narrative. The film is mostly a collection of scenarios loosely unified by ongoing subplots between the crew members and the government’s efforts to shut the pirates down. As flimsy as the structure is, the film works but it also misses out on an opportunity  to comment on themes of censorship, artistic freedom, and mass media responsibility the way Good Morning, Vietnam, Quills, and The People vs. Larry Flynt did.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes and commentary track.

Bottom Line: Pirate Radio is good fun, especially for those who enjoy rock music of the 1960s. Although the stick-it-to-the man theme of the film is a bit superficial, Pirate Radio does have enough attitude and heart to make that theme resonate and it’s a satisfying tribute to the power of independent media.

Episode: #300 (August 8, 2010)