Killing Bono review (DVD)

Killing Bono follows the story of the McCormick brothers, two young Irishmen with lofty aspirations of becoming rock gods. After putting their all into achieving their dreams they can only look on as their fellow secondary school rivals become one of the biggest bands of all time, U2.

Based on Neil McCormick's memoir Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelgänger, we learn about the fallout that U2's success had on the McCormicks and see the desperate acts that Neil (Barnes) went through to ensure that his band matched the success of U2, just for the sake of his younger brother Ivan (Sheehan). The film had a very frantic and rapid first act which didn't get it off to a good start. The early scenes of our characters' interactions and ties with Bono felt very rushed with very short scenes providing little information before we'd even gotten to know our lead characters. As a result, I found it difficult to get involved early on.

However, as the story progressed from Ireland to London and as the McCormicks started their search for success, the pace was brought down and I was able to engage with the movie. As the film progressed I could sense it was growing in confidence and it gained momentum towards the climax.

Unfortunately it was abruptly halted by a rather blunt ending when I really felt like there was more of the story to tell. Clearly the pacing of both the narrative and editing was inconsistent for me.

The chemistry between the two brothers was engrossing, especially as the story continued to unfold and we learned of the underlying and unspoken guilt between the two brothers. I found Barnes to be extremely watchable, particularly with his willingness to bury secrets from his brother and his desperation for his band to exceed U2, purely just to impress his brother who he felt he had let down. Channelling his rage, guilt and jealousy into Bono and obsessing over him brought some watchable turmoil, especially since it's not Bono but himself he has to blame. Inevitably as all the secrets came tumbling out, tension built up and the confrontation between the two brothers worked well. Barnes and Sheehan both provided memorable performances and proved to me what exciting actors they are, hopefully they will gain some more recognition down the line.

The supporting cast also provide some light relief from the antics of the brothers with their manager (Serafinowicz), their landlord (Postlethwaite) and an Irish gangster (Townsend) rounding off well, each popping up with some amusing moments. The female roles in the film however provided very little drama or entertainment and were instantly forgettable, not necessarily through the performances but it seemed to be romance by numbers when it came to these characters' arcs.

Bono himself was played by Martin McCann with a very understated performance that worked to his advantage. Even though Bono doesn't feature heavily throughout the film, the brothers are never able to escape his presence. One downfall was that as the film progressed from the 70s to the 80s, it was hard to picture this young-looking actor as a fully-grown Bono even with a few deceiving costumes and camera tricks.

So with this movie you get a mixed bundle of both positives and negatives. You can look forward to some quality performances, a fun snapshot of the music scene in the 80s and the life of wannabe musicians. But it feels like there was plenty of material here for a great film with too many areas skimmed over. I'd have to liked to have seen an expanded origins story within Ireland and a much more exciting conclusion, but the second and third acts are enjoyable.


Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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