Starring: Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed
Director: Ken Russell
Running Time: 108 mins
Tommy is a British film about a boy who becomes deaf, dumb and blind after a traumatic childhood incident, yet grows up to be a champion pinball player who begins to develop a cult-like following.
While its story rages with a rather disturbing and cautionary thematic underbelly, I have to say that I had a whale of a time with Tommy. Bursting with energy from start to finish, this almost surreal rags-to-riches tale combines sobering drama with spectacular musical prowess, delivering an enormously entertaining watch that stands out to this day.
It’s not enough to simply call Tommy a musical. In truth, it’s a rock opera, with songs from The Who’s 1969 album of the same name brought to life on the silver screen. Apart from the fact that this film really soars with the distinctive sound of The Who, the original album being a concept album, the music is tailor-made for a cinematic adaptation.
And with zero lines of dialogue through the whole film – everything is sung – Tommy is one of the most effective and consistently entertaining musical films you’ll ever see. The songs progress the story so effortlessly, with captivating and rich insight into the story’s main characters, and some of the core themes that lie beneath the hectic on-screen action.
Along with the music comes vibrant dance choreography, dazzling visuals and spirited performances from a brilliant ensemble cast. Roger Daltrey is of course less involved in the opening stages of the film – his character being deaf, dumb and blind – but Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed, who play his mother and stepfather, really kick the film into gear from the word go.
In fact, even as Daltrey becomes more and more involved in the story as things develop, Ann-Margret is arguably the real stand-out here, with the most physically committed and emotionally striking performance of the whole cast, showing that this story is about more than just its title character.
Of course, however, Tommy’s story is one riddled with dark drama, and it’s remarkable how the film manages to simultaneously portray that while delivering spectacularly entertaining music.
Abused and exploited time and time again throughout his life, Tommy is desperately helpless everywhere he goes, and entirely reliant on the will of those around him. Strangely, these depths of despair lead him to discovering an incredible gift for pinball, which propels him and his family to wealth and fame, followed by a dramatic revelation that leads him to become an influential messiah figure.
Again, after the disturbing depths of the film’s first half, it tells an equally unsettling tale of feverish idolatry that can lead to greater ruin than anything, as Tommy’s following grows to an extreme scale after reaching the top of the world.
It’s a captivating dramatic theme that lends real depth to an otherwise hugely entertaining rock opera. This movie is about more than just the music, and more than just the character in its title, with gripping drama alongside a distinctive and still spectacular cinematic style. And that’s why I’m giving Tommy a 7.7 overall.