The challenge for any director putting together a biopic is to find the balance between making sure the audience has been given every moment they want to see and hear in regards to the subject's public persona while pulling back the curtains enough to delve deep into more personal matters. Bryan Singer — a director better known for comic book-inspired movies — has found that razor sharp edge with "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Singer's examination of the creative and destructive nature of genius through Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and Queen offers insight into both the musical madness of the band and the emotional insanity that Mercury dealt with during his short-lived career. He died in 1991 at the age of 45 from bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" starts with Mercury (who was still going by his given name of Bulsara) as he takes over as lead singer of a local bar band in 1970 and continues through the biggest performance by the band playing Live Aid in 1985. The time in-between was a supersonic rise to fame and glory built around Mercury's incredible vocals and the band's demands to be innovative.
The film looks at the band but its deepest and darkest core is the tale of Mercury. Malek faced his own challenge in playing the singer as he had to show both the bigger-than-life moments in Mercury's life coupled with the times that sent him into a deep melancholy. The performance by Malek is not a perfect impersonation (the singing is a mix of Malek and other sources) but he has captured the essence of Mercury with so much power that he commands the screen. This is the kind of work that should get attention from Oscar voters.
Anthony McCarten's ("Darkest Hour") script hits all of the big tent moments ranging from Mercury's unusual love affair with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) to the creation of some of Queen's most memorable musical works. Just when the film begins to slip into a master class in music, McCarten directs the story back to one of the many personal relationships. There are some gaps in the story but that's always the case with a biography. Telling every detail would take a lifetime.
As for the music, not every great Queen song is featured but their catalogue of hits would also dramatically increase the movie's running time. What is included makes this a soundtrack a must to own, even if you have every Queen album. Singer loads up the score with as many tunes as possible even mixing some in as incidentals.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" is such a solid film that even when it makes what initially comes across as a big mistake, it is such a whirlwind of energy that it makes up for all glitches. Showing multiple performances by Queen at Live Aid would normally feel like musical overkill but the staging and music is so much of a force by the end the set seems too short.
The release of "Bohemian Rhapsody" comes on the heels of the highly-touted "First Man" featuring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. Director Damien Chazelle created a masterful look at the efforts by American astronauts who were first to step on the moon. It features a strong performance by Gosling and a meticulous telling of the race for space. But, Armstrong was not a flamboyant as Mercury and even the roar of a Saturn rocket doesn't create the same immediate connection as the first few stomps of "We Will Rock You." "First Man" suffers from a mundane presentation of history while "Bohemian Rhapsody" never has a mundane moment.
Both are excellent biopics but it's "Bohemian Rhapsody" that proves the laws of physics that state energy can't be created or destroyed are wrong. Sparked by the performance by Malek and the amazing music of Queen, this movie generates a massive amount of creative energy.