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Movie Review - Once

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

Once.  All I can say is, "Oh my God!"  What a film.  Before getting into specifics, let me just say this: As a younger lad, I had no problem watching movies I enjoyed multiple times, but this has become less common as I've aged, due to lack of time, as well as an awareness that there is so much to see and do.  However, I first watched this movie on Thursday, and was thrilled when I was able to watch it again last night (with my wife), just two days later (I've never done that before).  To top it off, I enjoyed it just as much the second time.

Simply put, this is a story of romance and music.  Shot on a shoestring budget of $160,000, Once features two musicians ( Glen Hansard of The Frames, and Mareta Irglova ) who portray struggling musicians in Dublin, Ireland.  Here is a solid review of the plot, which is of two people drawn together due to their passion for music.  No one involved is an accomplished actor, and the budget leads to obvious efforts to hold down costs (i.e poor lighting).  However, none of that matters with this picture.  In fact, I've it said that the low budget positively impacts the impression of the movie, and I can't disagree.  The story is well told, the actors hold up, and the music is so pitch perfect for this film it's almost criminal.  Had they a budget in the millions, Once would be Music and Lyrics, a nice film, but one that leaves no lasting impression. 

It is the music, in fact, that is the glue of this film.  The theme is music (and emotion expressed through music), and music is present in virtually every scene.  If the music wasn't just good, but also synchronized with the feel of the movie, then this movie just wouldn't work.  That the music not only holds up, but in most respects carries the film is a testament to both the director and the musicians.  Interesting, too, that the director realized (correctly) that it was more important to find real musicians who could "half-act," rather than the other way around ( Cillian Murphy was originally set to play the lead - a former amateur musician himself - but balked at acting opposite an unknown, as well as at some of the octaves required in the music).  The most important scenes are the ones where emotion is expressed through the music, and who better to portray that than a musician?

For myself, what I enjoyed was watching two people come together as a result of a common passion.  A simple but solid story, well told, with likable, yet very human, protagonists.  And all of it shot on less money than Michael Bay spends per minute on a film.  How this film did not garner more consideration for awards is beyond me.  Movies are most effective when they are about story and people first, with themes indirectly addressed through the individual story arc (at least, in my opinion).  This movie is a classic example of that.  Yes, you can find interesting topics to discuss in the aftermath of the movie, but it all boils down to a classic love story expressed through music.  That's what good film is all about.  Now, excuse me while I go buy the soundtrack...         

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