Movie review: Rami Malek deserves Oscar nod for 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 02 2018 11:04 AM

I discovered rock band Queen in 1980, when their songs "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust" became big radio hits. Since then, I became a fan of their music. Their frontman, Freddie Mercury, is well-known for his flamboyant stage performances, and for his premature demise to complications from AIDS at a young age of 45 in 1991. Beyond that, I knew very little about the real story of Queen and Mercury beyond what I saw on MTV.

Filming for "Bohemian Rhapsody" was started by Bryan Singer and completed by Dexter Fletcher (after Singer was fired from the project with one month to go). Intense anticipation for the film was heightened by the release of its exciting trailers. However, before it was publicly released, the initial reviews that came out had been harsh. Despite all that, I still wanted to watch this biopic, with expectations significantly tempered, of course.

In 1970, lead guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, formerly of the band Smile, accepted Farrokh Bulsara as their new vocalist and John Deacon as new bassist to form the band Queen. Farrokh eventually changed his name to Freddie Mercury. The band was then signed by EMI Records and toured the US, and later the world.

Meanwhile, trouble brewed behind the scenes for Mercury as he faced various issues about his girlfriend, Mary Austin, his career managers, his creative freedom, and his relationship with the band. Freddie's series of bad decisions, both personal and professional, as well as his overlapping vices eventually take their toll on him and on the band.

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The impersonation of Mercury by actor Rami Malek already caught our attention when the trailers first came out. Seeing his full performance confirmed that Malek should figure prominently for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role come awards season. Okay, Malek's overdone prosthetic denture to simulate the real Freddie's overbite could be a bit distracting, but that aside, his portrayal of the iconic singer is meticulously spot-on, from the bombastic to the vulnerable.

Malek probably did not do his own vocals for the singing scenes, but he certainly acted realistically as if he was singing those songs himself. In the final 20 minutes devoted to Queen's bravura set in the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Arena, Malek's performance was almost a perfect copy of Mercury's -- every arm gesture, hip gyration, prideful strut and vocal ad lib. More importantly, the passionate emotional impact of what was considered as the greatest live concert performance of all time was also captured and delivered intact.

The actors who played the other three members of Queen all did well in their roles. Gwilym Lee looked and acted like Brian May did, as with Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon. They looked as if they were masters of their respective musical instruments, and had chemistry as close friends in scenes depicting their creative process.

Lucy Boynton played a gentle and loyal Mary Austin, a love affair I never knew about. We seethed at the Allen Leech's treacherous portrayal of manager Paul Prenter, and laughed at Mike Myers' humorous roasting of EMI executive Ray Forster. Aiden Gillen and Tom Hollander played two other managers.

Meneka Das and Ace Bhatti played Freddie's conservative Parsi parents. Aaron McCusker played Jim Hutton, Freddie's last boyfriend. (The directorial decision to have Freddie find Jim and introduce him to his parents right on the day of Live Aid concert before going to Wembley felt contrived.)

I actually do not see anything wrong about this biopic at all that those first movie critics were complaining about. Granting creative license for better dramatic progression, I thought this was a very well-told biography about Freddie Mercury and Queen. Despite the formidable running time of 134 minutes (2 hours and 14 minutes), our attention was grabbed from the get-go and never let go up to the very end.

Technical aspects of cinematography, editing, production design, costumes, and the musical score, were all top notch. The song choices in the soundtrack were all extraordinary, especially "Love of My Life," "We Will Rock You," "Radio Gaga", "We Are the Champions" and, of course, the title song.

The sensitive angle about Mercury's sexuality and disease was expected, and I thought it was handled with care and was not exploited for its lurid details. To have his AIDS diagnosed before Live Aid, at least two years prior to when it actually was, was done for dramatic purposes (it is not a documentary, after all). The treatment of the material was respectful and non-controversial. While this approach may prove too safe or too simplistic for some critics, it made the film more easily accessible and entertaining for mainstream viewers.

I watched this with my two teenage sons. I was worried that they might find it boring since they were unfamiliar with most of the songs. However, they both liked the film a lot and were excitedly looking up videos of Queen songs and concerts on the way home. I believe this film will actually gain Queen and Mercury more fans from the next generation.

The critics slayed "Bohemian Rhapsody" the song when it first came out, but it went on to become a classic. I believe that same fate awaits "Bohemian Rhapsody" the movie as well. 9/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."