Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Directors: Dexter Fletcher, Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan
Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers
Bohemian Rhapsody is the ambitious and suitably flamboyant telling of the momental success of Queen and the band's ceaselessly talented frontman Freddie Mercury. While their musical career seemed to start strong and only improve over the decades, their film which chronicles this journey gets off to a terrible start.
Few films possess a beginning and an end which are so disparate in quality. The first 30 minutes of this film are dismally poor. Like a nervous speaker in front of a heaving crowd, the film blurts out its opening speech at a rate of knots, spitting out the formation of the band and their rise to worldwide fame in a garbled mess which is barely followable. Queen's beginnings are obviously not as important as their end, at least from this film's point of view, and having to set up the band's beginnings feels like a chore rather than a meaningful and worthwhile part of the story. Resultantly, the audience is given no time to absorb and engage with the story, while the bonds between band members are insufficiently explored and the passage of time remains a mystery. It's only when Queen embark on perhaps their finest musical creation that the film finally takes a breath, settles down and finds a more relaxed tempo.
As the film gets to where it obviously wants to be (circa, 1975), it really gets into its element. Following the creation of the titular Bohemian Rhapsody in a quaint little cottage-turned-recording studio (an element of the story which arguably should also have been given more time and attention), the pace slows to something far more digestible. At this point, the film is saved from what was quickly approaching a disaster, with the story running smoother and becoming more engaging and possessing a power and resonance which was not given any chance to build within the first 30 minutes of cinematic mayhem.
As the breakneck pace of the film begins to slow, the subtleties of Malek's performance become much more noticeable. Given more time, space and mustache, Malek seems able to bring forth the Mercury the film deserves, and gives a fantastic performance both emotionally and - very important when trying to portray Queen's frontman - physically, courageously encapsulating all the elegance and boldness of the original spandex-wearing superstar. In attempting to achieve a physical likeness, Malek's Mercury veers dangerously close to becoming a caricature of the man, with a distracting set of false-teeth threatening to spoil Malek's performance. Luckily, the influence of his borderline goofy appearance fails to meaningfully subtract from what is a committed and energetic performance.
Sadly, Lee, Hardy and Mazzello's performances as May, Taylor and Deakins, respectively, are all quite wooden in comparison. They certainly prop up the narrative, but throughout the film it feels as if they are there only to support Malek's performance, rather than being their own separate characters. Physically at least, they are cast incredibly well, with Lee looking eerily similar to Brian May, but three quarters of this band don't feel at home in a film with such a legacy behind it.
Really, despite Mercury being at the very forefront of the story, it isn't really the story of Freddie Mercury. Instead, this is the story of how Queen became the biggest band in the world, perhaps explaining the time and place chosen for the film's conclusion. Enough focus is given to the story's various aspects - such as Freddie's chaotic private life, the rifts between the band, and Freddie's eventual tragic AIDS diagnosis - but none overshadow what is the most important part of this story; the music. Music which is rich and weighty, and loud and clear, played as all Queen songs should be played.
The song after which Bohemian Rhapsody was named sits proud at just shy of 6 minutes, and its continued success after more than four decades is proof that 'fortune favours the bold'. This film should have perhaps taken a leaf out of this particular book. It's 2 hour and 13 minute runtime was perhaps too limiting, and the Bohemian Rhapsody may have been far more evenly paced if it had aimed closer to the 3 hour mark.
In one line: Despite a disastrous start, Bohemian Rhapsody works hard to gain control of its narrative and delivers a brilliant portrayal of the rise to fame of one the biggest bands of all time, concluded with an utterly breathtaking finale.