Friday, July 04, 2014

Keira Knightley shines in Begin Again

"But are we all lost stars, trying to light up the dark?"

You know you've watched a great movie when you walk out of the cinema smiling. Amidst the torrent of summer blockbusters flooding the cinemas, Begin Again is a welcome respite to the big-budget, albeit exhausting and depthless box-office rakers. It is a deep and intricate exploration of music-making and human relationships. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a disgraced record label executive who's down on his luck, having been fired from the very company which he founded, for refusing to give in to the superficial trappings of today's music scene. Greta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are songwriting partners who fall out
after the latter has been ensnared by his new-found fame. Two people, whose lives are torn apart by their own problems, come together in a fortuitous encounter to create great music set against the backdrop of New York City.

Begin Again - Official Trailer

It's uncommon to find such a movie which employs the magic of music to drive its plot along and this is where Begin Again really shines. Make no mistake though, it is not the use of music to evoke sentimental feelings in its viewers (which is an overused technique) which makes it special but rather, the use of music as a medium to convey the inner feelings of its cast which makes it outstanding. This movie draws many parallels with the Oscar-nominated Inside Llewyn Davis, a similar movie exploring the journey of a hapless musician on the road, but it is unique in its own way. Of course, such movies are few and far between as actors don't often double up as singers and singing is no mean feat. This is why director John Carney, of 2006's Once fame, has created a gem that is in a league of its own, by assembling a fitting and musically-talented cast to tell his story.

Mark Ruffalo, who was responsible for transforming the Hulk into a fan-favourite character in The Avengers, plays Dan, the common man on the street who is unemployed, loves to drink, has marriage woes but who is deep down at heart, still a very loving and caring father. Keira Knightley, who is more well-known for playing traditional damsels in distress, surprises the audience by playing Greta, an independent and modern singer-songwriter who manages to stand on her own two feet. Ruffalo's superb and skillful acting reminds us once again of why he was cast in The Avengers and last year's sleeper hit Now You See Me but it is really Knightley who bedazzles us with her vocal prowess.


Keira Knightley performing Lost Stars

Knightley ravishes us with her renditions of the movie's signature track, Lost Stars and shows us that she has a hidden talent for singing. The track is sweet, soulful and original, a song about love and finding meaning, one that really stirs your soul just as Oscar Isaac's folk song, Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song) did in Inside Llewyn Davis. Other tracks sung by her include Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home, an uplifting and inspiring track and Like A Fool, a meaningful but harsh song dedicated to her douche of a boyfriend, Dave and all the heart-breakers out there. There are also plenty of references to classic songs such as Dooley Wilson's As Time Goes By and famous musicians such as Bob Dylan and Randy Newman.

Songs aside, the light-hearted conversations between Knightley and Ruffalo really help to shape and add layers to their characters, allowing you to examine and appreciate the delicate nature of human interactions. It is those simple yet charming moments such as the two leads listening to songs using a splitter, strolling down the streets of New York in the night which define who they are and define the film itself. Adam Levine of established boy-band Maroon 5 fame does fine in his film debut as the detestable songwriting boyfriend who strays from his relationship while James Corden sparkles as Greta's platonic musician friend, Steve. Young teenage actress Hailee Steinfeld puts in a fitting performance as Dan's daughter Violet while hip-hop rapper Yasiin Bey delivers as Dan's record label partner, Saul. It was enjoyable to watch record producer CeeLo Green's cameo as Dan's first client, who helps him in his time of need.

The cinematography in this movie is commendable and excellent, employing a wide range of camera angles, close-up shots and pans to set the mood for this light-hearted musical-romance comedy. Scenes are filmed in different locations of New York where Greta and her team of wacky but talented musicians record their music, bringing an atmosphere of liveliness and daily down-to-earth city life to the movie. Characters' emotions are conveyed vividly while music plays in the background. The teary-eyed Greta scene in the end is a hard-hitting and bittersweet one while the surreal scene in which Dan pictures various musical instruments accompanying Greta's song in a musical arrangement adds an extra dimension to the movie.

Keira Knightley speaks about her experiences filming Begin Again

At its core, Begin Again is a heartwarming and splendid movie about making music. It's not a musical movie; people don't break out in chorus and start singing all of a sudden. Formerly titled Can A Song Save Your Life, it is a funny, romantic and uplifting movie, bringing hope to the lost and stirring your heart just as its music stirs your soul. It is proof that a movie does not need tragedy or sex to sell (I'm looking at you, The Fault In Our Stars) and it is a movie that everyone should not overlook or miss this summer. If you're a sucker for British accents like me, Keira Knightley's accent should be a delightful bonus for you.

2014 may have just found its best movie yet.

Directed by John Carney
Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden and CeeLo Green

Keira Knightley performing Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home

Keira Knightley performing Like A Fool (spoilers)

Adam Levine's version of Lost Stars