Revisiting The Commitments for this 25th Anniversary release is an interesting historical exercise, depicting as it does a snapshot of Dublin on the verge of becoming the centre of the Celtic Tiger. That development in the 90s and early 2000s – before the financial crash of 2008 hit the Irish economy – made such a huge difference to the cultural landscape of Ireland that The Commitments almost appears like it could have been filmed during any decade of the mid-20th century. There’s a curious timelessness (and danger of cliche and stereotype) in the production, which also gives it the impression of being simultaneously a timeless and period drama.
The story is incredibly simple. Jimmy Rabbitte (a superb Robert Arkins in his first film role) wants to manage a soul band, so puts an advert in the paper. He auditions members, and co-opts friends and acquaintances to join in, including a drunken, fat loudmouth bus conductor Deco (the incredibly voiced Andrew Strong). So with the band formed, they argue, and it’s no spoiler to reveal they finally fall apart. And then the film ends.
Strong was only 16 when the film was being made, but appears about ten years older. The maturity of his singing voice remains astonishing and the musical numbers are what really make the film stand out.
It’s a snapshot of a group at war with itself, and is very watchable, but the paper thin simplicity of the story might leave the viewer begging for more. The performances, from the mostly (Colm Meany aside) inexperienced main cast, are excellent. There is a robust joy to the pacing and delivery which, despite the very straightforward story, works. It’s rough and ready, and challenging the audience not to like it.
The filmmakers, director Alan Clarke and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Franais (best known for Porridge, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet) are not Irish and they do tread pretty carefully with the voice from Roddy Doyle’s original book. Gale Tattersall’s gritty cinematography plays up all the grey with an almost 1940s documentary style, and Alan Clarke’s eye doesn’t waver far from the poorest, slummiest areas of the fictional Barrytown area of Dublin. It’s a weird thing to watch now, a makes a constant thought sit in the back of the audience’s mind: “is this real?”
The question about the authenticity is tackled in the making of documentary on the Blu-Ray – Alan Clarke says he was struck by the visuals and wanted to capture them. So is it cinéma-vérité or stereotype? The answer is probably a bit of both.
Ultimately it’s a very funny likeable movie, with some very superb musical numbers and audaciously riotous performances. It just leaves you wanting slightly more.
Bonus Features include: 25 Years Later: a new interview with Alan Parker and the cast, an audio
commentary with Alan Parker, and four behind-the-scenes featurettes.
The Commitments is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on Monday 19th September, and will be a must-have for people who like a bit of Soul.