Rocketman

Posted: June 1, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard.

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Crippled by a morass of addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping!) Elton John (Egerton) checks himself into rehab and looks back on the events that have brought him to this point, from his childhood (when he was still Reginald Dwight) as a boy with cold parents, his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) and his mother Sheila (Howard), where he first showed an aptitude for the piano, to the formation of a song writing duo with Bernie Taupin (Bell) and his troubled relationship with music producer John Reid (Madden). Despite his success Elton has to keep his sexuality a secret, which puts more pressure on him. As he spirals down into drug fuelled depression can he find salvation?

 

There’s a curious sense of déjà vu in many respects when it comes to Rocketman. An unconventional looking rock star who has to hide his true sexuality, a man incredibly successful yet perhaps doomed to a life of loneliness, a world of excess; drugs, sex, booze etc. A manipulative lover/manager who takes advantage of our hero, and the true friends he comes to realise he needs after all.

So far so Bohemian Rhapsody (throw in the fact that Madden’s character features in BR too, and that Fletcher finished off the directing on the Freddie Mercury biopic and you’ve pretty much got a full house) yet curiously these films are chalk and cheese in every other respect once you scratch beneath the surface. While BR was a pretty straightforward biography of Mercury, Rocketman is something altogether more, if you’ll pardon the pun, mercurial. It’s hard to say for sure but it feels like with this film Fletcher had far more freedom, which is odd in some respects given the subject of this film is still very much alive and involved in the production, but this isn’t some vanity project, or at least if it is it’s quite clearly of the warts and all variety, because Elton doesn’t necessarily come out of it as a virtuous hero, quite the reverse. Yes he’s manipulated, and yes he’s forced to live a lie, but he’s also something of a dick, and he freely admits it when he gleefully tells his rehab group that he’s been a C***T

Central to the film is the casting. Curious to consider that, originally and many moons ago, Justin Timberlake was in line to play the part, but that does make a bit more sense than Tom Hardy who was attached more recently. I like Hardy, but I can’t see him as Elton John.

Egerton on the other hand is perfect. He looks the part, and he bloody acts the socks off the part but, maybe more importantly, he sings the part too, so really, if Remi Malek got an Oscar and mimed, shouldn’t Taron be up for a statuette himself next year? He’s got a great voice, and he plays the two sides to Elton perfectly (the brash showman and the lonely, insecure man behind the huge glasses). From wowing them on stage, to crying his eyes out alone, Egerton is never less than perfect.

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But the casting is spot on throughout. As Elton’s long-time collaborator Taupin, Bell is astonishing, even more so given of the three male leads he’s the most understated. That Bell makes the impression he does despite sharing the screen with two men who get to chew the scenery tells you all you need to know about his acting ability. Apparently Barbara Broccoli has considered him for Bond—now I can see why (though he’s probably not tall enough).

On the subject of Bond let’s talk Madden. It’s weird but when the Bodyguard was on so many people were suggesting he could be 007, but I didn’t see it. Oh, lordy I see it now. Odd given in the Bodyguard he was a straight close protection officer, and here he’s a gay music producer, but he owns the screen, displaying more presence than I’ve seen from him before. With dark hair and smart suits he prowls the screen, a dangerous, incredibly masculine predator. John Reid is not a nice man, but Madden keeps it just the right side of moustache twirling. I hope Barbara was watching!

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Which brings us to the fourth major cast member. Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mum. I spent the whole film wondering where I knew her from, then I saw her name come up at the end and had a genuine “No Freaking Way!” moment. As with the three leads Howard is perfect, and you wouldn’t know she wasn’t British. She also, in some respects, has the hardest job because of all the characters she has to play the widest range in terms of her age, and she does it well. She also manages to make an unlikeable character at least somewhat empathetic. She might be cold, but she isn’t inhuman.

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Special mention for national treasure Gemma Jones as Elton’s loving gran, and Stephen Graham as foul mouthed empresario Dick James.

Fletcher’s direction is excellent, and the film plays like a musical at times, with characters bursting into song and the sudden appearance of a troupe of dancers. This melding of the real and the fantastical works wonderfully, and is probably the perfect evocation of the duality of Elton John’s life.

I’ve probably never considered myself a huge John fan, but it’s only when you hear the songs that you realise, oh he did that one, and that one, and that one…and even the tunes I didn’t recognise I liked.

On the story side it’s hard to know what is true and what, perhaps, is exaggeration, but this is clearly no whitewash at the end of the day, despite John and husband Furnish’s presence behind the scenes.

Funny, sad, joyous, colourful, dramatic; this is a gem of a film that’s meticulously directed and wonderfully acted. I liked, and still like Bohemian Rhapsody, but Rocketman blows it out of the water on every single level.

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