The Commitments': Movie Review
Alan Parker's film, The Commitments, follows the exhilarating rise and eventual downfall of a pickup Irish Soul band trying to break out of a working class Dublin existence.
Director Alan Parker sure can film a modern musical, with such classics as Fame, The Wall and Evita among his credits. We can now add one more movie to that elite list- The Commitments.
Based on a rollicking novel by Irish author Roddy Doyle, The Commitments crackles with energetic performances by a young and virtually unknown cast of Irish actors and musicians. Parker spent months auditioning local talent, eventually putting together a believable mix of musicians who could act and actors who could play instruments. With few exceptions, the music produced for the movie was rendered by the movie cast themselves, which is quite a rareity in many modern musicals.
The movie centers around a young slacker from North Dublin named Jimmy Rabbite, played by singer/actor Robert Arkin. Jimmy has aspirations of entering the management side of the music business, but for now can only supplement his unemployment check with under-the-table sales of cassettes and t-shirts. The Rabbite family, whose adventures are chronicled in other Roddy Doyle novels, are tolerant of Jimmy's ambitious nature, but quietly wish he would 'find himself' sooner rather than later.
After agreeing to manage two wedding band performers, Jimmy senses an opportunity to create a real band consisting of the talent surrounding him. After auditioning what seems like an entire village of would-be rock stars, the nucleus of what would soon become a band is formed. By a curious stroke of luck, a former session trumpeter who has alledgedly played with all the great Soul musicians learns of the band, and offers his services. Although a bit skeptical of the man's musical history, Jimmy readily agrees to include him in the fold.
The movie then follows the band from its first frightfully bad rehearsal through its final, triumphant showcasing at the local club. Led by an astounding lead vocalist named Deco Cuffe (16 year old Andrew Strong in a breakout performance), the band slowly develops a very tight sound, with many covers of songs by Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. The musical numbers alone make this film worth watching over and over again, although some of the numbers are cut for dramatic purposes.
The only movie that compares to The Commitments in terms of sheer energy and rambunctious humor would be the John Landis film The Blues Brothers. Both movies feature great Soul and R&B covers, with first-class musicians playing their hearts out. But where the Blues Brothers became a car chase movie with music thrown in, Parker keeps the Commitments low-keyed and introspective. Parker gives us unflinching glimpses into the gritty, black collar lives of the band members, which add a palpable atmosphere of desperation to their performances. The dialogue is course and brutal at times, tinged with both savage humor and complete honesty. These characters can see the handwriting on the wall, but still maintain their own dignity right until the final curtain.
The Commitments will thrill you with breathtaking performances by both Andrew Strong and the trio of female singers known as the Commitmentettes. If you've ever wondered what really happened to that local band you once enjoyed hearing, The Commitments is your movie. A love of music held these young people together long enough to create magic but, as one character points out to a dejected Jimmy Rabbite, success of the band was truly irrelevant. Their expectations of life were lifted, and that is the true legacy of the Commitments as a band. Truer words were never spoken.