Opened: May 30, 1997 | Rated: R
Watching "Brassed Off," I kept wondering what kind of buzz it was getting in the hardcore environmentalist community.
I mean, here is a spirited, moving, feel-good film that insists on provoking sympathy for folks trying to keep a Yorkshire coal mine from closing. Coal -- the most environmentally unfriendly common fuel known to man.
Granted, these coal miners are an inspiring bunch. They're blue collar workers dependent on the mine to sustain their town and their livelihoods in the face of late '80s Thatcherism (the Reganomics of the U.K.), which saw many lower middle class jobs eliminated.
Politics and economics weigh heavy on their minds. The gritty unpleasantness of their work in the mines is vividly portrayed and inspires compassion. But these folks have traditionally been the kind to keep their chins up and persevere, even when faced with a vote that shuts down the mine for good.
Their one last point of pride is the town's masterful brass band, made up of mine workers and lead by rising star Ewan McGregor and the venerable Pete Postlethwaite.
The film follows the disintegrating lives of these musicians, from Postlethwaite's severe case of black lung resulting from a life in the tunnels to his son's desperation over how to feed and clothe his family.
At once a tear-jerker and a life-affirming comedy, "Brassed Off" is the best kind of mush. While largely predictable, it abruptly turns away from the melodrama each time you're about to roll your eyes and makes you laugh in spite of yourself.
Example: Postlethwaite's son, who often plays a clown at children's parties to make extra money, eventually gives into his frustration and tries to hang himself. The dispondency and suspense are heavy. But when he's rescued and wheeled into the hospital on a gurney, the camera is focused only on his humongous clown shoes.
With the mine closing, the band is in turmoil over breaking up after a legacy that spans generations and they go on one last road trip to win a national competition.
This part of the story sounds in print to be detached and corny, but in fact is effortlessly woven together with the concerns of the community.
The music is positively energetic and helps serve to make even the most mundane scenes -- in the mine shaft for instance -- a visceral experience.
The progress of "Brassed Off" is hackneyed at times. A disquieting number of scenes begin with people randomly meeting on the street in the middle of the night, as if the whole town has insomnia.
But with performers like Postlethwaite, McGregor and especially Stephen Tompkinson -- who plays the suicidal son with wracking grief and ironic comedy -- holding our attention with rich characters, these trifles are forgivable.