When writing the screenplay to this film, did anyone ask, is this the real life, or is just fantasy? During the Live Aid sequence that makes up the last twenty-five minutes of this film, the band Queen is aware their lead singer is doomed having contracted AIDS. In 1985, a diagnosis of AIDS was a death sentence, and all of them knew it. So during Live Aid, Freddie Mercury is extraordinary, as I hear he always was, and the band looks on adoringly, their eyes glistening with tears, as they watch their friend give the performance of his life. There are lingering shots on fans in awe, some weeping even though only the band knew Mercury was sick.
It makes the sequence a love in, turning it into something it was not.
Those scenes made clear to me that Queen, the band, had far too much to say about the film and how they were presented on film. Yes, Mercury was often a diva, but he was hardly always the bad guy. He believed in the band, called them his family and meant it. Yes, they were upset when he left to record a solo album, but he never broke up the band, he never said he was finished with them. He went off to grow and it did not work out, which Mercury admitted. There is a lot in the film that in untrue, blatantly false, but the performance of Rami Malek is being hailed as so good, these flaws are being overlooked. So instead of a biting, penetrating study of one of Britains’ most iconic bands, we get a film that feels like Queens Greatest Hits.
Rami Malek is a force of nature as Freddie Mercury, nailing the strut he possessed on stage, the confidence, the moves, everything about the singer, even, to a degree, his electrifying charisma. Yet by the end of the film, the performance felt repetitive, the arm movements and thrusts were the same, there was nothing fresh. In fairness, you cannot encompass a life in two hours, but stronger films about real-life characters have been made. I like Malek, have followed him since seeing him as Snafu in ‘The Pacific’ for HBO, but not for one second do I believe he deserves the Academy Award.
The elephant in the room of course with this film is discussing the prime creative force, the director, Bryan Singer. Fired from the film, he did not guide the last three weeks of shooting but did direct everything else. Allegations of sexual misconduct with young boys stand to ruin Singer if he is found guilty, and the studio sought to distance themselves from this pariah. The rumours about Singer have been there since 2000, with some pretty reliable sources; it does not look good for him. During this awards season Singer has not once been thanked, not by Malek, not by the producers, which I think is shameful. Yes, Singer might be a deviant, but he was responsible for that stunning Live Aid sequence, and 90% of the finished film, the man is difficult to work with, but deserved a thank you.
Having seen the film four times now, I have been a little more disappointed each time. By the time Mike Myers shows up under layers of makeup and wigs, I start to disconnect. When Oliver Stone directed ‘The Doors’ (1991) he had the courage to show rock star Jim Morrison warts and all. Val Kilmer gave a fearless performance, doing his own singing as Morrison, and showing the blinding arrogance that Morrison grew to have. He believed his own legend, which would lead to his downfall. Mercury really did believe he was outrageous and worked hard to be the most outrageous rocker of his time. Malek does that. The difference between a great performance and a good one when portraying a biographical character is that in a great performance we get a glimpse of their soul.
Malek gives a good performance, nothing more and apparently they give Oscars for that these days.
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