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dir Bryan Singer
scr Anthony McCarten
prd Graham King, Jim Beach
with Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Max Bennett, Jess Radomska
release UK 25.Oct.18, US 2.Nov.18
18/UK Regency 2h14
I want to break free: Malek
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
There's a sense that filmmakers missed an opportunity to channel that Freddie Mercury lightning into a biopic that would both capture his spirit and offer insight into Queen. So while the plot trundles along anecdote by anecdote, it's the music that catches the attention. The script works hard to avoid anything difficult, shying away from Mercury's thoughts and feelings. But the songs are everything.
In 1970 London, students Brian May and Roger Taylor (Lee and Hardy) have just lost their lead singer when Freddie (Malek) appears. With added bassist John Deacon (Mazzello), the band decides to pursue boundary-pushing music-making. And it pays off as managers John Reid (Gillen) and Jim Beach (Hollander) encourage them against the wishes of their play-it-safe label boss (Myers). Over the years, they become one of the biggest bands in the world, even as they struggle with personal issues that are usually rooted in Freddie's diva-like behaviour.
Bizarrely, the script highlights Freddie's relationship with girlfriend Mary (Austin), who seems to realise he's gay before he does. Indeed, his sexuality is marginalised into suggestive moments, and his more serious relationship with Jim (McCusker) is only briefly shown. Even more blatant is the portrayal of Freddie's personal manager Paul (Leech) as a villain playing people against each other for no discernible reason. It feels like a plot point based on a hunch, unnecessarily forcing a generic narrative structure.
Still, it's never boring. Malek is magnetic, creating a believable arc as Freddie leaves his conservative family, becomes a scruffy rock star and then a glittering pop icon who carries on after his Aids diagnosis. The film builds to the 1985 Live-Aid concert, at which a storming Malek pours even more of his heart into the role. Everyone else in the cast is excellent, with moments of comedy and emotion, but they all seem stuck just outside Malek's spotlight.
The way the narrative bounces from event to event never quite lets the film come to life. Each scene and sequence is strong, but there's little sense of momentum between them, which prevents themes from deepening. Perhaps appropriately, Freddie remains almost infuriatingly out of reach, and yet his feelings are powerfully expressed in songs like Somebody to Love, I Want to Break Free, Who Wants to Live Forever and of course Bohemian Rhapsody. Although perhaps it's too telling that the filmmakers weren't patient enough to include all six minutes of what is arguably the greatest pop song ever written.
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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