November 3, 2014 -- This is a movie inspired by the success of the independent film “Once” (2007) which was written and directed by Irish filmmaker, John Carney. This time, Carney has written and directed a movie with a similar story and transplanted it to the United States. This time, he's got more money, better music and better actors, and he's come up with a better movie this time, too.
I liked the story of “Once,” but the screechy singer-songwriter music, by Glen Hansard, who also starred in the movie, did not appeal to me, not in the way it captured the fancy of the many fans of “Once.” Hansard (of “The Commitments”, a much better film) is back at it again in “Begin Again” writing music for this film, along with John Carney, but Grammy-winning artist Gregg Alexander wrote most of the film's music. Even more than it was in “Once,” music is absolutely front and center in this film.
Keira Knightley (of “Anna Karenina”) stars as Gretta, a songwriter who is devastated when her singer-songwriter boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine of the band Maroon 5) cheats on her. She is getting ready to leave New York and head back to London when her friend Steve (James Corden of “The History Boys”) practically drags her on stage at a local bar to sing one of her songs. About the only person in the audience who is paying attention to her music is Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo of “The Avengers”) a divorced, luckless record producer who has just lost his job.
In a beautiful scene, we see and hear Gretta's song, not the way she plays it or hears it, but the way Dan hears it. Non-existent instruments play by themselves in Dan's mind, accompanying Gretta, strings, drums, a whole, beautiful ghostly arrangement. Gretta's song is the best thing Dan's heard in a long time and it inspires him. He tries to get Gretta to sign a contract with him, but she is skeptical. He persists.
Gretta finally relents. Dan tries to get his former music business partner (who fired him the day before) Saul (Mos Def of “Cadillac Records”) to produce Gretta's songs, but he declines. In a move inspired mostly by desperation, Dan and Gretta decide to do a series of street guerrilla recording sessions on the cheap with Gretta's friend Steve (who just happens to have some good second-hand recording equipment) and other musicians that Dan recruits. Gradually, Gretta finds out that Dan not only has a great ear for music, he has a lot of friends in the music business who are willing to help, including a wealthy rapper, Troublegum (played by singer-songwriter, record producer, rapper and actor CeeLo Green).
Dan's daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit”) becomes part of the act, and Dan's estranged wife, Miriam Hart (Katherine Keener of “Enough Said”) even attends one of the recording sessions. Music brings them all together, at least for a time. Like Carney's earlier musical film, this is not exactly a romance, although it has some romantic elements, and it is about relationships. This film is mainly about music, and people who are in love with music. It is also about the pitfalls of the music business
The acting is superb in this film, led by one of Mark Ruffalo's best performances ever. This is not an easy role to play, but Ruffalo makes you believe in this difficult, many-faceted, flawed, but admirable character. Keira Knightley sings well enough, given the fact that her character is more of a songwriter than a performer. When Adam Levine sings, you can instantly hear who the real professional musical performer is in this movie. The music is really good, easy on the ears. If there is any justice in the film industry, which there isn't, the music in this film will win an Oscar or two, just as a song from the film “Once” did. This film rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.