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For way too many of us, the daily grind is just that. We work, we go home, we work some more. Maybe there's time for a hobby. Maybe it's just TV and put the kids to bed. Brassed Off deals with the English version of the scenario; a town in which most everyone works at the same job -- mining coal -- and the hobbies seem to be drinking, playing pool, or participating in a brass band. The film lays out its political leanings from the start and then leans back to let the story tell itself.
The story is based on that of the closing of a profitable coal mine at Grimthorpe; it is the story of 1,000 miners who can choose to be bought out, or go on strike with the hope of keeping the mine (and their jobs) alive. It is the story of Phil (Stephen Tompkinson), a miner who has way too many children and is up to his neck in debt. His father, Danny (Pete Postlethwaite), is retired and leads the brass band, which is all he has left in his life. It is the story of Andy (Ewan McGregor), who sees little option but to fight for his job, until Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald), a woman he once had eyes for, reappears in town.
What keeps the town centered is the brass band populated by the miners. Once upon a time, the Grimley Colliery Brass Band was nationally famous in competition; Danny, as leader, hopes to take it back to that zenith. The members of the band are ready to pack it in -- they don't have the cash to sustain their interest -- until Gloria shows up, ready to toot her horn.
This is where Brassed Off works. It could have lay like a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking if it had ceaselessly harped on the political aspects of the true-life closing of Brit coal mines by the Thatcher regime. But it keeps its head and lets the lives of the coalmen play out onscreen. Phil, desperate to keep his family together, takes a second (and humiliating) gig as a rubber-nosed clown at birthday parties thrown by the mine management. As his pathetic life runs down, you'll find yourself laughing in sympathy and touched by the conflict with his dad over his place in the brass band.
McGregor and Fitzgerald rekindle a romance that was barely that in their teen years. Postlethwaite delivers the kind of first rate performance I've come to expect. A true story: A major NY critic turned to me in the elevator on the way up to the screening room and asked Cranky how he decided "which one of these things to see." Cranky replied: "It's the actors." Brassed Off is filled with the best of the new generation of British actors, and is worth seeing just for that. But the script by director Mark Herman is filled with humor and realistic situations that will keep your attention locked on the screen. True, he gets political at the end, but it's a short distraction.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Brassed Off, he would have paid . . .
Off is an amiably enjoyable flick and well worth your time in a cool
theater this summer.
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