The Commitments Review
Self-styled Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Jimmy Rabbite (Robert Arkins) sees an opportunity in his mate's floundering musical career and sets out to manage and create a band that can rival U2 - well at least the local U2 cover band. But there's no point setting your sights on a market that's already taken - what Dublin needs now is a Soul band! Soon half of Ireland's aspiring muzaks are queueing up outside his door but none of them have enough charisma or lungs to front the band... Unless that overweight bus conductor could do the trick?
Roddy Doyle's eponymous book was always prime movie adaptation material - it was funny, it was tender and the dialogue was brilliant. Alan Parker grabbed the opportunity and commissioned Doyle to write a first treatment which was then reworked by La Fresnais and Clement. However, the film had to remain as authentic as possible to the very specific background that Doyle was writing about - fair dues to Parker, he chose the exhausting task of casting the actors straight off the streets of North Dublin with a series of open band auditions. The on-screen Commitments has its members playing their own instruments bar the charismatic trumpeter Joey "The Lips" Fagen, played to perfection by the stage actor Johnny Murphy.
Parker directs the unexperienced actors with ease and the film flows evenly from start to end; an effective use of real locations for most of the scenes gives the film a rough edge as do the less-than-impressive initial rehearsals. It is however debatable whether Parker should have spent so much time focusing on the songs - no-one doubts they are great tunes but the film would have been much tighter (and maybe funnier) if some of the songs were dramatically edited down; after all, the idea of Dublin Soul was funny for its sheer incongruity rather than any inherent musical value. I suppose it's a matter of taste whether you enjoy the on-screen Commitments renditions of Soul standards but I must confess finding Andrew Strong's vocal style slightly grating after the first few songs.
The film however did incredibly well at the box office both in Europe and in the US and helped launch the musical careers of some of the cast members. Despite some flaws, it remains an endearing film that manages to capture the energy of youthful musicians doused with a fair dose of self-deprecation - a healthy mix that keeps the film as funny as it was a decade ago.
The image is generally good with few occurrences of artifacting. The colour palette comes through as rather muted and somber with few flashes of colour but that is the way it was meant to look. The image gets an anamorphic enhancement and keeps its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Though originally filmed in stereo, the film has received a 5.1 remix. No problems emerge in the mix, but the surrounds are only occasionally used, with most of the sound heavily centred in the front speakers.
The commentary features only Alan Parker who does an above average job despite some lengthy silences and a boring delivery. He talks us through how the film came to life, the casting process and various trivia nuggets (such as Andrea Corr appearing as Jimmy's sister).
First up there are two Making-ofs. The first is 21 minutes long complete with breaks for ads - it was obviously produced at the time (for proof, Roddy Doyle still has hair) and features lots of excerpts from the film. The rest of the time is filled up with Parker, Doyle and most of the cast talking about the process of making the film, along with some behind the scenes rehearsals and the casting sessions. Worth watching with a finger on the fast-forward button. The second making-of is much shorter but is basically a heavily edited version of the first running for around 8 minutes. The image in both cases is fullscreen and hasn't aged very well since the image is excessively dark and lacking in detail making it more akin to VHS than DVD.
The two following documentaries reveal themselves to be much more interesting, the first is a Looking Back documentary (anamorphic 1.77:1, 47 mins) which talks to the cast members and looks at what they have been up to since the film. The second looks at Dublin's Working Class (anamorphic 1.77:1, 15 mins) and features Doyle and some of the cast members talking about Dublin's historical North/South divide and how it has changed over the years - both documentaries are pretty worthwhile watching despite the first one being a bit overlong.
Sticking with the film's musical theme, a recent recording of both Andrew Strong and Robert Arkins are included as an audio-only feature. A video clip for the film's opening track (with an introduction by Parker and Arkins) is also included.
Finally, a vast array of TV spots, radio spots and a trailer are included - all from the US promotion and therefore tend to focus on the humour and the critical acclaim.
Though the extras are plentiful, not all of them are essential but it is obvious that a lot of effort has gone into producing the two documentaries which are unsurprisingly the most interesting extras on show here.
Some good extras manage to give this DVD release an extra depth which fans of the movie will appreciate. The movie has lost little of its charm and proof that you can make a good comedy without having to gloss over the social reality of the setting.