In 2007 John Carney found much success with his written and directed film “Once”, not only for the charming story but also with the moving music that helped tell the tale. “Once” gathered so much attention it went on to develop into a successful stage show. In 2013 Carney treated fans of both music and the city of New York with his latest film, ‘Begin Again’ now available for viewing on Netflix. As he did with “Once” John Carney performed triple duty by writing and directing the film, as well as teaming up with Glen Hansard and Gregg Alexander to create all the music for the film.
In this New York music tale, the talented Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan Mulligan, a struggling record producer disheartened with his personal life, and the changing music industry. He runs into Gretta James, played by equally talented Keira Knightley, a serious song writer who feels music more strongly than most, also struggling with her own personal heartbreak. Together the two collaborate on an album recorded on the streets on New York, streets sounds and all.
John Carney has a way of using music to help convey the feel, look, and relativity to a story. ‘Begin Again’ is loaded with music that helps the flow of the story while filling you with a sense of emotion. With some non musical movies loaded with music you can get bored with the abundance of singing, but the music in ‘Begin Again’ is so well written, so easy to listen to, and so warm, you adore nearly every song and listen willingly. Carney even has amazing imagery to showcase Dan Mulligan’s love and experience with music as he shows what Dan Mulligan sees as Gretta sings acoustically. The audience is treated to Mulligan’s vision as he witnesses instruments get up on their own and play along with Gretta’s song, even if no one else hears or sees the back up band.
Carney uses the actual city of New York as the film’s backdrop and he chooses his locations wisely. Instead of filming in the same tourist attractions that are always seen in movies, Carney instead films in back alleys, street corners, and roof tops rarely seen by anyone other than native New Yorkers. The film fills each scene with a real sense of New York that makes outsiders long to visit and natives proud of where they are from.
Even with great music a film can not make it with out the proper performers to adopt the characters to life. Here Carny succeeds once again. Unsurprisingly Mark Ruffalo knocks another out of the park. Not only does he look the part of a broken down record producer with his disheveled cloths and his constant five o’ clock shadow, but he nails down the manners, the speech, and the excitement of the world of music. He wears his heart on his sleeve and stays true to what he believes, no matter the cost, and it costs him a lot. Ruffalo shows what that cost physically looks like. Yet Ruffalo also shows the passion for the sound, the person, who he believes has something that is sorely lacking in the world. Viewers can clearly see the two sides of Dan Mulligan through Mark Ruffalo’s performance, the man who has lost everything, and the man who has found it again.
Keira Knightley may at first seem out of place as the independent song writer who believes more in the message of music than the dollar, but quickly you adjust to her. It takes more than just the ability to sing to deliver the character of Gretta which Knightley can do. Keira shows a lot of her character’s emotion through her music and through her eyes, which can make your jaw drop. She shows how deeply she loves and feels. She knows what the songs are saying. Gretta’s connection to music is so strong that in one stunning scene with her boyfriend Dave, played by Maroon 5’s front man Adam Levine, as she listens to his new song, she realizes a shocking truth with out either of them saying a word to one another. It’s a fascinating performance by Knightly as she uses her face and her eyes to convey her heartbroken understanding and you feel goosebumps. ‘Begin Again’ makes you renew your love for Knightley’s acting, and well as her singing voice now as well. Together Ruffalo and Knightley connect so well that the story feels it couldn’t have been told with out them.
For his first role in a major film Adam Levine does a remarkable job of playing Dave, a young musician who evolves into the stereotypical rock star. While the role may not be something out of the norm for Levine, considering all the singing he does, he really does an impressive job of presenting himself as a hopeful quiet man and not the superstar singer he is in life. He covers his tattoos in clothing and slaps on glasses, and later a beard which kind of gets distracting, and makes you believe that he is a talented simple young man thrust into the limelight.
Other enjoyable performances come from James Corden as Steve, Gretta’s friend and fellow struggling musician. Mos Def plays record producer Saul, who isn’t trying to be a villain, but wants to continue being successful in the music industry at any cost. Lastly, Hailee Steinfeld plays Ruffalo’s distant daughter Violet.
‘Begin Again’ is an impressive film that fills you with highs and lows that you will feel way after the film is finished. The music touches your heart and fills your ears, and the performances impress you and make you smile. John Carney continues to do what he does best, create magnificent stories about the world of music with character’s that viewers root for, and music that they will love. ‘Begin Again’ is a wonderful piece of film full of heart and performances that will make you want to share with friends and family, as well as watch again alone.