Begin Again (2013) Directed by John Carney. With Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener.
After winning critical acclaim with his 2006 musical-romantic drama film, Once, writer-director John Carney returns to similar, albeit starrier ground with this New York-set story about a group of people brought together through a mutual love of music. In lesser hands, it could easily fall by the wayside as an unremarkable star-vehicle with nice songs, sung by depressed pretty people.
Mark Ruffalo co-stars as Dan, a down-on-his-luck music producer who stumbles drunk into a bar one night to discover Gretta (Keira Knightley) performing at an open-mic session. Ruffalo brings a natural charisma and charm, giving a performance that would add an extra star to any review. Opposite Ruffalo, Knightley is a prickly presence who demonstrates great versatility, bravely putting herself in a position of scrutiny. The songs themselves are beautiful and Knightley doesn’t let the side down as she captures the frustration of the single-minded musician, while holding her own on lead vocals.
This is a film full of people stepping outside of their comfort zones. Adam Levine, the lead singer of rock band Maroon 5, plays a prominent dramatic role as Knightley’s on/off boyfriend. His performance is capable, and his presence as an accomplished musician adds a layer of authenticity to the film that sees him successfully walk the delicate tightrope of rock-star turned-actor.
The cinematography captures the urban character of New York City, as opposed to the overused, glossy magazine cover style shots of the Chrysler Building. Carney opts for an impression of a city ripe for creativity – more organic than we’re used to seeing. Ultimately, Begin Again is a film about relationships through music. The relationship of film and music is a long and fruitful one – we have another gem to add to the playlist. 4/5