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Begin Again - Review

Begin Again

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AS much a love letter to New York and the power of feel-good movies as it is an astute look at human frailty and big business versus independent spirit, John Carney’s Begin Again is a triumph on all levels.

A bigger, more ambitious film than his global charmer Once, the film is a warm tale of second chances that should strike a chord on some level with all but the hardest hearts.

Like Once, Begin Again follows two people united by music. Washed up A&R man Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is clinging to life by a thread – estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and having lost the support of his former business partner (Mos Def), Dan is drifting aimlessly through each day until he stumbles into an NY bar and becomes smitten by a song written and reluctantly performed by newly heartbroken singer Greta (Keira Knightley).

Persuading her to let him take her under his wing, the two embark on a journey to record an album on the streets of New York that will change both of their lives along the way.

Carney’s film may sound corny and certainly wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve but it crucially maintains an indie spirit that prevents things from feeling overly contrived.

As a result his film works on an emotional level and provides both Ruffalo and Knightley with the kind of material they can both sink their teeth into in order to deliver fully rounded, flawed but engaging characters. Quite simply, you enjoy being in their company.

And the fact that it was shot in just 23 days and sometimes on the run (ie, without a permit) in NYC lends it a freshness and rawness that also feels authentic, and never more so than when delivering the film’s likeable songs (yes, Knightley sings… well).

Carney’s screenplay also has some interesting things to say about the vagaries of the modern music industry (which in itself serves as a neat metaphor for some of the shortcomings of contemporary life), while visually tipping it’s hat to some of the great New York-set movies of years past and the power of cinema to make you feel good (but never manipulated).

Indeed, it’s to Carney’s immense credit that the film doesn’t cop out, delivering a near-perfect final scene (that is extremely satisfying) and a cheeky mid-credits sequence that underlines where this particular filmmaker’s heart truly lies.

Begin Again is a film to be charmed by: smart, cute, effortlessly uplifting but emotionally authentic to boot.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 104mins
UK Release Date: July 11, 2014