Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#1,674. The Commitments (1991)

Directed By: Alan Parker

Starring: Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball

Tag line: "They Had Absolutely Nothing. But They Were Willing To Risk It All"

Trivia: Alan Parker originally wanted Van Morrison for the role of Joey "The Lips" Fagan

Manager wannabe Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr. (Robert Arkins) is putting together a band.  Not a regular rock and roll band, mind you, but one that specializes in soul music. 

With this as his goal, Jimmy begins his quest to find the best musicians in all of Dublin. Starting with his good friends, guitarist Outspan Foster (Glen Hansard) and bass player Derek Scully (Kenneth McCluskey), he adds saxophonist Dean Fay (Félim Gormley), drummer Billy Mooney (Dick Massey), pianist Steve Clifford (Michael Aherne), and lead singer Declan “Deco” Cuffe (Andrew Strong). 

Rounding out the band are three pretty back-up singers: Natalie (Maria Doyle), Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher) and Imelda (Angeline Ball), as well as middle-aged trumpeter Joey “The Lips” Fagan (Johnny Murphy), who claims to have shared the stage with such legendary R&B performers as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Sam Cooke (among others). Whether he’s telling the truth or not, Joey is clearly the most experienced musician of the group, and it’s he who comes up with the band’s name: The Commitments.

After securing equipment (from some shady characters), a place to practice (the top floor of a billiard room), and even a bodyguard (the volatile Mickah, played by Dave Finnegan), Rabbitte pushes The Commitments to learn such classic yunes as “Mustang Sally” and “The Dark End of the Street”. 

Before long, the group is playing gigs throughout Dublin, mostly to packed houses, but will in-fighting among the band’s members ruin their chance to achieve greatness?

Since its release in 1991, Alan Parker’s The Commitments has proven to be a very popular film. In 1996, several of its characters were featured on an Irish postage stamp (part of the “Centenary of Irish Cinema” collection), and a 2005 poll sponsored by Jameson’s Whiskey named it the Best Irish Film of All-Time. 

Part of its appeal is undoubtedly the young cast that Parker assembled, almost all of whom had never acted in a movie before. Robert Arkins is extremely likable as Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr., the creative force behind The Commitments, and Johnny Murphy (one of the picture’s most experienced actors) gives a solid performance as the God-fearing trumpet player Joey Fagan, whose stories fascinate both Rabbitte and his father, Jimmy Sr. (Colm Meaney), a lifelong Elvis fan (Fagan tells the two about his brief stay in Graceland, as Elvis’ guest). 

By the time it’s over, we've grown to like every member of The Commitments; even the often arrogant lead singer “Deco”, who lets the little bit of fame he achieves go straight to his head. It’s fun watching this collection of ragtag musicians come together as a group, and even when they’re at each others' throats (which happens quite often), we can’t help but root for them to succeed.

Another reason The Commitments continues to resonate with viewers almost 25 years later is the music. While the performances are good, the actors and actresses that make up the band were chosen mostly for their musical prowess, which shines brightly each and every time they take the stage. Bolstered by Andrew Strong’s deep, soulful voice (which, considering he was only 16 when the movie was shot, is kind of amazing), The Commitments do justice to every classic they perform. Their rendition of “Mustang Sally” is spot-on, as is the band’s take on “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Slip Away”. Even the ladies get in on the act (one of my favorite numbers is “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, sung by Maria Doyle), and it’s to everyone’s credit that there isn’t a bad tune in the bunch.

With great music, likable characters, and a gritty urban setting (which takes us to areas of Dublin I’m sure the city’s tourism council would rather forget about), The Commitments is a movie that, as long as there are dreamers, will always be timeless.

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