Despite implying the wish fulfilment of every bona fide Bono-hater, Killing Bono adopts an unremittingly generous stance towards the lead singer of Ireland’s most successful rock band of all time (a fact the script is insistent on repeating), a presentation bordering on hero worship that might prove troubling for a small minority of viewers. If this apparent love-in with Bono, aka Paul Hewson, sounds all too much for the resolute U2 detractor, you need not be alarmed: underneath the praise and admiration, misplaced or not, lies a sporadically funny and warm hearted coming of age story about the pitfalls of fame and the near impossibility of maintaining artistic integrity in an industry hell-bent on destroying it.
Astonishingly based on a true story, albeit by cinema’s definition of ‘truth’, Killing Bono is essentially an Irish take on the fifth Beatle legend; the eldest McCormick brother, Neil (Ben Barnes), selfishly denying his brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) the opportunity to have joined U2 (then The Hype) in 1976 when they were teenagers in order to pursue their own band and thereby his own personal aspirations. Neil could’ve hypothetically helmed U2 himself had he not been beaten to the post by Hewson (Martin McCann) in an audition, resulting in a lifelong embitterment that would fuel his desire to succeed to sociopathic heights. Coincidentally, this is the same point at which the truth of the ‘true story’ happens to break completely from reality.
In an almost identical mirroring of Ondi Timoner’s Dig! , which documented the demented rivalry between the heroin guzzling Brian Jonestown Massacre and their champagne sipping pals The Dandy Warhols, the narrative trajectory follows the same exact path from unknown talent dwelling in poverty to semi-industry success before finally imploding (women, ego, drugs, rivalry) and throwing it all away. Again, like Timoner’s film, Neil and Ivan’s highs (on tour) and lows (temporarily signed by a dodgy record company executive played by Peter Serafinowicz) co-exist alongside U2’s rise to fame, any achievement of theirs readily dwarfed by the preening monkey on their backs. Indeed, if the film is to be believed, at the height of U2’s popularity, there was scarcely a street left in Dublin which wasn’t adorned with a poster for the Joshua Tree album or a radio bellowing out their unique brand of stadium schlock. Naturally, Neil’s jealousy reaches operatic levels and it isn’t soon before he’s got Bono in his sights, literally.
Somewhat obligingly, an innocuous romance plot is inserted to facilitate one of Neil’s many ethical transgressions, not to mention an unconvincing life-in-peril final third which exhausts much of the goodwill the film had otherwise, up to that point, afforded. However, there are several fine comic performances which lift proceedings, notably Pete Postlethwaite’s winning last performance as a smooth, ludicrously gay London landlord with a panache for cocaine and pretty ‘boys’. Also worth mentioning is Stanley Townsend’s obese psychopathic gangster, all surface Irish charm concealing a far less genteel manner underneath, especially when it concerns outstanding debt repayments.
Ultimately, Killing Bono suffers from chronic unevenness, opening like every sub-par British comedy, then proceeding to win back the audience with an endearing middle section before fumbling the ball again and bowing out disappointingly. With some editing and script re-writes it could have been solid but, like its protagonists, it can’t live up to the strength of the competition.