Film Review: Begin Again

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine. Directed by John Carney.

Ever seen a movie that made you want to jump on a plane right away?

This was my experience of Begin Again. The film is set in New York City, with its hipster bars, concrete streets, and run-down boxy apartments. But just when you think the setting is enough cool, throw in a soundtrack that accompanies it with perfection and you’ve got yourself a winning flick.

The film opens in a New York bar as intoxicated record label exec Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo) watches songwriter Gretta (Knightley) perform on stage. Instantly, he becomes infatuated with her music and does his best to get her signed to his label. But all is not well. It is revealed that Mulligan has lost his job, separated from his wife, and struggles to connect with his teenage daughter Violet (the excellent Hailee Steinfeld). Gretta on the other hand lives in the shadow of her music star boyfriend Dave (Levine) and finds the opportunity to record an album with Mulligan liberating.

As I mentioned earlier, this film makes you fall in love with NYC, and the handheld shooting style launches you right into the action. Gretta winds up recording an album on the cheap around the city, gathering together a troupe of hipster musicians and recording each song in a different location. It’s a very clever idea and it’s a privilege to be taken along for the ride. The songs are marvellous (director Carney is a musician himself) and will no doubt be one of the year’s best soundtracks. Knightley and Ruffalo have great repartee and the film’s meandering story keeps you guessing about what turn it will take next. It’s very refreshing.

What’s on show in Begin Again – other than the music – is relationships. These are the foundation for all the music and action to be built upon. Dan and Gretta are each affected by broken relationships and they need each other to discover how they can heal. It’s music that unites them, but their conversations run deep as they help each other consider whether their respective relationships are beyond reconciliation.

For us, due to our sin, each and every one of us is affected by a broken relationship with our creator, the God of the universe. But in his mercy, God wants to repair it, and provides a solution. The apostle Paul writes about Jesus’ death reconciling Gentiles to God in Ephesians 2:12-13:

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

There’s no chance that we could work at reconciliation with God. We need Jesus to do that for us. At the cross he bears our sin and forgives us. He calls us back to himself, and allows us to begin again, just as if we had never sinned. I won’t give away spoilers, but there’s some very touching moments at the end of this film and it’s not exactly what you expect. But there’s a sense that things are made right again after so much hurt, pain and anguish in the lives of Dan and Gretta.

Make sure you catch Begin Again. It’s a real triumph for director John Carney and a breath of fresh air at the end of blockbuster season. I’m giving it four-and-a-half out of five stars.

Begin Again is screening now in cinemas everywhere.

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