Backbeat (1994)

Year

Certificate

15

Length

100 mins

Genre

Director

Rating

  3/53/53/53/53/5

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Back Story of The Beatles

We're gonna be big Stu, we're gonna be too big for Liverpool, we're gonna be too big for Hamburg, we're gonna be too big for our own bloody good - John Lennon

Ian Hart and Stephen Dorff in Backbeat

Everyone has heard of The Beatles, John, Paul George and Ringo but not so well known is the fact that the original line up to the band not only didn't feature Ringo but also featured a fifth member Stuart Sutcliffe. And it is the fifth member, Stuart Sutcliffe, which "Backbeat" is all about as it delves into the days before the band were big, when they were a 5 piece and playing the clubs in Hamburg. It's an entertaining movie for those who do not know the history to The Beatles showing us how they got started and why Sutcliffe chose to leave. But whilst entertaining I am hesitant to say interesting because it feels like director Iain Softley is more focussed on recreating the period and retelling what happened yet doesn't delve into the characters to really understand them and their motives.

The year is 1960 and best friends John Lennon (Ian Hart - Finding Neverland) and Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff - Public Enemies) along with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Paul Best head for Hamburg where they are scheduled to perform at a nightclub. Whilst John and Paul have big plans for the band Stuart doesn't share the same commitment and when he meets photographer Astrid (Sheryl Lee) it causes major problems leading him to have to make a major decision, stay with the band or leave them for a new life with Astrid in Germany.

Basically "Backbeat" is a snapshot in the history of The Beatles which wants to show how the fifth member Stuart Sutcliffe ended up leaving the band. And in an entertaining way it achieves this because we learn that John and Stuart were best friends, so much so that when Paul kicked up over Stuart's lack of commitment John would always stick up for him. We also learn that John had a vision for the band that they would be big, whilst Stuart a talented artist wasn't so committed. And of course we learn about photographer Astrid who Stuart would fall in love with and in the end leave the band for, whilst we also get an idea of the feelings that John had for Astrid as well. As such "Backbeat" is entertaining as it gives us a look at how The Beatles lost their fifth member.

Sheryl Lee as Astrid Kirchherr in Backbeat

But the thing is it feels like director Iain Softley missed a trick because whilst he does a brilliant job of recreating the era and delivering us the story that is as deep as it goes. There are hints about the closeness between John and Stuart as well as joint feelings towards Astrid but there is no depth. And so what "Backbeat" ends up is not an examination of why Stuart really left the band, his real feelings but just a retelling of the history. It basically lacks character depth so that whilst all of what we watch is entertaining the emotions and motives feel like they have been skimmed over. That doesn't mean that "Backbeat" is a bad movie, just not as deep and revealing as it could have been.

What is for certain is that Softley recaptures the era brilliantly as he takes us to the Hamburg club where the band started playing. It's all done in a very entertaining manner but you understand that the band worked hard whilst also had fun with John leading the band in some crazy performances. But there is something which feels wrong and whilst I don't mind nudity it feels like Softley has thrown more at the movie than maybe it needed. When we meet Stuart he is painting a nude model, then there is more nudity in Hamburg and then even more when Stuart and Astrid finally get together. It just feels like the nudity borders on being titillation with one scene in particular where the camera seems to liner on Sherry Lee's naked breast longer than probably needed.

Now the thing is that when it comes to the performances I enjoyed every single one be it Sheryl Lee as Astrid, Ian Hart as John Lennon, Gary Bakewell as Paul McCartney or Stephen Dorff as Stuart Sutcliffe. And each and everyone manages to capture the look and the mannerisms of the people they are playing brilliantly so it does feel like you are watching the younger versions of The Beatles. But what spoils it is that all of these characters end up feeling 2 dimensional because "Backbeat" ends up about recreating a moment in history rather than getting into the minds of the characters and their motives.

What this all boils down to is that "Backbeat" is an entertaining movie as it retells a moment in The Beatles history when Stuart Sutcliffe decided to leave the band for German photographer Astrid. And it is enjoyable to watch as the actors capture the mannerisms and looks of the characters brilliantly along with some wonderful musical moments. But whilst entertaining it lacks depth so that whilst it retells the story it doesn't delve deep enough into the characters to make it anything more than just an entertaining retelling.