Monday, July 15, 2024

“KNEECAP”

THE STORY – Set in West Belfast in 2019, the film depicts how the hip-hop trio Kneecap came to be formed and how they created their sound.

THE CAST – Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap, DJ Próvaí, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby & Michael Fassbender

THE TEAM – Rich Peppiatt (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes


Suppose you were assuming that the Irish-set film “Kneecap” is yet another movie about The Troubles. In that case, star Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh sets you straight from the get-go: “Every fucking story about Belfast starts like this,” followed immediately by a car explosion that looks straight out of “Belfast” (Take that, Kenneth Branagh)! But that’s not the only assumption about the Irish that British writer-director Rich Peppiatt blows to smithereens in his anarchic feature debut.

Anarchy is the watchword in this kind of true story of the formation of the Irish-language rap group Kneecap, which jelled when three aimless Irish speakers came together and found that they had something in common: a love of both playing music and flipping the bird to anyone intent on shutting down their party. Placing a real-life music group in a fictional story is, of course, nothing new — its most famous antecedent occurred six decades ago when The Beatles romped in Richard Lester’s classic “A Hard Day’s Night.” But with its cheeky narration and hyperactive editing, it’s clear that “Kneecap’s” true soulmate is Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting,” a film classic that took Irish rebelliousness to a fresh new level. Yet now, with the group’s worldwide political and cultural impact still growing, it’s possible that “Kneecap” has raised the bar even higher.

In 2017, Liam (aka Mo Chara) and his best bud Naoise Ó Cairealláin (Móglaí Bap) are just getting by as low-level drug dealers in West Belfast. When Liam, an Irish language speaker, is hauled in by the cops, the reluctant translator they provide for him is JJ Ó Dochartaigh, a modest high school music teacher, who, intrigued by Liam’s rhymes, palms a copy of their lyrics and sets them to a beat in his ramshackle garage studio. Once Liam and Naoise hear JJ’s final mix, Kneecap is born.

It’s always risky casting real-life people to play themselves, but Liam and Naoise are absolute naturals in front of the camera. Leaning into their larger-than-life stage personalities, Liam’s narration and the boys’ direct-to-camera observations are urgent and hilarious. But Peppiatt has also placed them in an actual story where they would have to be believable, relatable characters while keeping up with the superb actors around them. And keep up, they do. In fact, it’s in the film’s dramatic scenes where the pair truly impress — Liam jousting with police detective Ellis (Josie Walker) and romancing his Protestant girlfriend Georgia (a delightful Jessica Reynolds). At the same time, Naoise must deal with the likes of his fugitive IRA father (Michael Fassbender) and his agoraphobic mother (Simone Kirby).

Yet, the film’s biggest surprise (and best performance) comes from JJ, who, in his domestic moments as a mild-mannered music teacher, convinces us that we’re watching a brilliant new indie actor. Indeed, his quiet scenes with his activist wife Caitlin (Fionnula Flaherty) have a ring of authenticity about them, so much so that they become the heart and soul of the film. Peppiatt certainly doesn’t make it easy for JJ, challenging him with the biggest arc for any character as he evolves from mousy school teacher to anarchic social icon, and when JJ dons the green-orange-white balaclava to mask his identity and become Kneecap’s DJ Próvaí, we can’t help but happily raise our fists right along with him.

Yet, for all the joy that the band generates with its music, the fact that they’re choosing to express themselves in the Irish language wields enormous cultural importance as well. Their music was used as a rallying cry by proponents of legal recognition of the Irish language in the north of Ireland, an act that was passed in 2022 and became a significant step in the fight for Irish sovereignty. That fight is movingly dramatized in “Kneecap” as an important subplot that gives the film a bit of extra gravity, even amid all the drug trips and bare bottoms surrounding it.

Not all dramatic elements are incorporated as well in the film, however. Fassbender, for example, plays his ex-IRA fugitive with the kind of earnestness that one would expect in a “respectable” film about The Troubles. It is precisely the kind of movie that “Kneecap” holds up to mockery in the opening. While it’s possible that Fassbender’s participation helped to get “Kneecap” made, his character is a buzz-kill. Similarly, we all know how Kirby’s agoraphobic storyline will end, yet it feels almost thrown away when the moment comes and never quite lands as it should.

Despite the many rules of musical biopics that “Kneecap” breaks, our three heroes are nonetheless classic movie underdogs, fighting back against their oppressors, whether they be the Brits, the cops, or the paramilitaries (with the occasional ketamine break now and then). While on the one hand, “Kneecap” is profanely silly and utterly irresponsible, on the other, it’s vitally important and thrillingly alive.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - This kind of true story of the formation of the Irish-language rap group Kneecap takes the rebelliousness of the band and channels it into the film, upending the biopic genre with cheeky humor and a propulsive pace.

THE BAD - Not all of the film's dramatic elements are woven successfully into the narrative, with Michael Fassbender's performance, in particular, as an ex-IRA fugitive hitting a jarringly earnest note that belongs more in the kind of "respectable" Irish film that "Kneecap" goes out of its way to mock.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Original Screenplay

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Tom O'Brien
Tom O'Brienhttps://nextbestpicture.com
Palm Springs Blogger and Awards lover. Editor at Exact Change & contributing writer for Gold Derby.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

101,150FollowersFollow
101,150FollowersFollow
9,315FansLike
9,315FansLike
4,686FollowersFollow
4,686FollowersFollow

Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>This kind of true story of the formation of the Irish-language rap group Kneecap takes the rebelliousness of the band and channels it into the film, upending the biopic genre with cheeky humor and a propulsive pace.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Not all of the film's dramatic elements are woven successfully into the narrative, with Michael Fassbender's performance, in particular, as an ex-IRA fugitive hitting a jarringly earnest note that belongs more in the kind of "respectable" Irish film that "Kneecap" goes out of its way to mock.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-original-screenplay/">Best Original Screenplay</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"KNEECAP"