The strange thing about The Commitments, for me, is that I wasn’t sure if I had seen it. I remembered snippets, certain highlights, but kept convincing myself that I had somehow not sat through the entire movie. And then it turns out that I had seen it. But, even as the end credits rolled, I realised why my memory had failed me. No, not just old age. It’s because the film felt much bigger than just what was onscreen. The soundtrack was hugely popular, of course (just listen to one tune and you’ll know why), but the characters and storyline were so impactful that it was easy to forget the actual slightness of the main storyline.
At heart, this is a simple tale about the rise (and fall?) of a soul band. Robert Arkin is the fast-talking manager, Jimmy Rabbitte, who puts together a motley crew of misfits, gets himself a stellar lead vocalist (Deco, played by Andrew Strong), and then does his best by them while they start to fight amongst themselves and risk imploding. The main twist is that this is a soul band being formed, and looking for gigs, in Dublin.
Directed by Alan Parker, and adapted from Roddy Doyle’s book by Doyle, Dick Clement, and Ian La Frenais, this is a near-perfect example of how to make a crowd-pleasing movie without relying on emotional manipulation or too much sweetness. Treated any differently, the same material could have been botched, either turned into something indistinguishable from a hundred other movies or made far too bitter and miserable to have viewers smiling.
The script is not only full of great individual lines, many of which will make you laugh out loud, but it’s also full of great minor details that allow every single character to be fleshed out. There are still a few characters given more screentime than others, but even the most minor supporting player seems to make an impression (and the eagle-eyed may wish to see if they recognise Andrea Corr playing the younger sister of Jimmy Rabbitte).
The cast all seem perfect for their roles. Arkin is all cheeky charm one minute and exasperation the next, Strong is believable as a man who can’t stop his huge vocal talent being threatened by his huge ego, Johnny Murphy is a wonderful mix of guru and possible Walter Mitty, and the female members of the band – played by Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Bronagh Gallagher – move effortlessly from bold and brassy women offstage to sweet songbirds as soon as they’re in front of a crowd. Félim Gormley, Glen Hansard, Ken McCluskey, Dick Massey, and Dave Finnegan are all deserving of their band placement, and Colm Meaney almost steals a few scenes, playing the Elvis-idolising Mr Rabbitte.
Then you have that superb soundtrack, featuring a number of soul classics. Each one is given reverential treatment, while also being tweaked to better pair up with the visuals. Highlights include “In The Midnight Hour”, “Try A Little Tenderness”, and “Mr Pitiful”, but you also get at least a dozen other tracks to have you singing along and/or tapping your toes.
Last, but by no means least, you have Dublin. The city itself doesn’t always feature as prominently as you might think, mainly due to the fact that so many scenes focus on interiors, with the band rehearsing and being showcased during their gigs, but there’s a sense that the whole film is steeped in 100% Dublin spirit. It’s there in every background character, it’s dripping from every line of dialogue uttered, and it’s there in the warmth and wit of the community that the main characters come from. Well, that’s how it all feels to me anyway.
If it’s been a long time since you last saw this movie then revisit it soon, because it’s almost always even better than you remember. If it’s not been that long since you last saw this movie, revisit it anyway.
The Commitments has just been released in a lovely 25th anniversary edition on Bluray. The disc contains a lively, and highly informative, commentary track from Alan Parker (ported over from a previous release, as far as I can make out), a new interview with Parker and three other cast members (about 20 minutes intercut between Parker, Robert Arkins, Glen Hansard, and Ken McCluskey), a 22-minute vintage featurette looking behind the scenes of the making of the movie, a 47-minute look back at the movie that drags in everyone available, from Roddy Doyle to Andrew Strong to the Director of Photography and many more, two other featurettes (one on the essence and spirit of Dublin, and one extra “making of…” rendered redundant by the other, superior, supplementary material), a music video for “Treat Her Right”, and numerous stills. There’s also a small, but text-packed, booklet covering even more memories and comments from Alan Parker.
DIRECTOR: ALAN PARKER
WRITER: DICK CLEMENT, IAN LA FRENAIS, RODDY DOYLE (BASED ON THE BOOK BY RODDY DOYLE)
STARS: ROBERT ARKIN, ANDREW STRONG, ANGELINE BALL, MARIA DOYLE KENNEDY, BRONAGH GALLAGHER, JOHNNY MURPHY, FÉLIM GORMLEY, GLEN HANSARD, KEN MCCLUSKEY, COLM MEANEY, DAVE FINNEGAN, DICK MASSEY
RUNTIME: 118 MINS APPROX