“Pirate Radio” (2009): Rocking the Boat, The Waves, and a Generation (Review)

With the untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we here at The Cinematic Katzenjammer have decided to dedicate the entire month of February to the man in an aim to cover his lengthy and prolific career. Starring in over 50 films over two decades, Hoffman proved to not only us, but to the entire world, that he was one of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen. His intensity, his charm, and his wisdom will never be seen again. Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman. May you finally find yourself as one of the “cool” people.

First up is Pirate Radio, or as it is known in some corners of the world, The Boat That Rocked.

Directed and written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), Pirate Radio is full of the usual charm and wit you would expect coming from one of the UK’s finest film-makers. It tells the story of a ship off of the coast of Britain, who illegally broadcast rock and roll music to fans on the mainland in hopes of igniting their own musical revolution. The film features a grab bag of actors, from Nick Frost and Curtis staple, Bill Nighy, to much smaller names like Chris O’Dowd and Rhys Darby. However, the King of Cool that sits just left of center stage is Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman plays The Count, an American DJ who finds himself aboard the ship for the sole purpose of spreading the good word of rock and roll. Driven by the music and high off of the rebellion, The Count is a focal point in the film, showcasing just how much music can mean to one man and one generation. In the role, Hoffman exudes that same cool we have seen him exude so many times before, and his love of the music is never doubted. He is the laid back, go-to man we all want in our corners and his dedication to both his craft, the music, and his friends is incredibly admirable. Hoffman fits the role perfectly, just as he fit a similar role in Almost Famous, and his grizzled carefree demeanor adds a level to the character you could only find in the actor.

It goes without saying that the music featured in the film is just as important as the story and the cast, if not even more so. In a film motivated by the desire to fill everyone’s ears with rock and roll, the song selection is rather important. With a rather small budget (and a large cast), Richard Curtis chooses his songs ever so carefully, while managing to include the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who, just three of several bands you immediately associate with the genre. Nearly every song is used as source music and we, as the audience, get to enjoy the music right along with the colorful cast of “pirates” we grow rather fond of right off of the bat.

As good hearted and charming Pirate Radio is, it is not without its faults. The pacing can be hit or miss at particular moments and the plot is only moved forward by an evil government official played by Kenneth Branagh looking to shut the radio station down. In doing so, we witness several jokes that are somewhat funny right out of the gate, but peter out by the film’s conclusion. In fact, any scene in which we focus on Branagh and his futile attempt to stop a generation from enjoying great music, we find ourselves wanting to jump back aboard the boat that rocked and mingle, dance, and sing with our new found comrades.

Perhaps it’s a testament of the music or the quality of the cast, but Pirate Radio gleefully marauds its way into our hearts. Led by the impeccable Philip Seymour Hoffman, we cannot help but enjoy every minute aboard the boat and every tune that echoes off of its transmitters. In a time where far too many frowned upon the idea of rock and roll, this tiny little ship floating off of the coast of Britain gave so many of us the voice we were looking for- the voice to rock.

The Good: A killer soundtrack paired with a stacked cast full of a lot of talent
The Bad: Mixed pacing and slight distractions from Branagh’s end
The Hoffman: Comfortably sitting on the throne of cool with a mic in his hand and a box of records at his feet

Overall: 7.8/10

Written By Nick

Nick is a man obsessed with all things related to film. From the most obscure to the very popular, he’s seen it all and hopes to one day turn his obsession into a career that makes a lot of money so he can buy a monkey, a bulldog, and a full size Batman suit.


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  • This was one of my favorite performances as he was so funny as my favorite moment in that film is him and Rhys Ifans playing chicken where Hoffman says “I don’t even like Simon”.

  • The chicken sequence is definitely great. Seeing a big ol’ dude like Hoffman climbing up something against the bean pole Ifans seems a bit unfair lol.

  • Tom

    Fantabulous idea, sir. I like it a lot. Must get to seeing this film, it sounds like a rockin’ good time. 🙂

  • It is indeed a rockin’ good time!

  • Hoffman is one of the best parts of Pirate Radio, along with the music. I had a lot of fun with this movie as you know, though I agree that the Branagh parts get old quickly. Looking forward to all your Hoffman posts!

  • I remember when I assigned you the film for SS, that I knew you’d like it lol. But yes, it’s a shame that someone like Branagh can be rather distracting… Who woulda thunk!?

  • fernandorafael_c2c

    Great review, Nick. Being a fan of many involved (Hoffman, Curtis, Nighy), I don’t know why this film has eluded me. I have to see it!

  • You really do need to see it! Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • Mark Walker

    This is one of the few of Hoffman’s movies that I haven’t seen. I’ll be getting on it soon enough. Fine review Nick!

  • I look forward to your thoughts. It’s a gem!