Amadeus - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Amadeus Reviews

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Super Reviewer
December 31, 2009
Impeccably directed, with a wonderful art direction, an outstanding cinematography and an unforgettable performance by Abraham as the envious Salieri - the true protagonist of the story -, this is a splendid masterpiece that must definitely be seen in its three-hour director's cut.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ October 23, 2013
When I reviewed A Royal Affair last year, I spoke about the two big challenges that any period or costume drama has to overcome. One is the reputation of the genre as one obsessed with surface rather than substance, and clothing rather then character development. The other is the issue of pacing, needing to capture an historical period with its slower technology and pace of life whilst also needed to tell a story at an endurable pace for modern audiences.

While Nikolaj Arcel's film ultimately came through both tests with flying colours, Amadeus is only a partial success. It's an overly long film of two halves, which begins as silly and as frothy as one can get, and ends as something of a weighty, murky drama containing compelling ideas. It is as sumptuous as it is silly, and irritating as it is intriguing, but it does ultimately come through with the goods before it has completely overstayed its welcome.

Before we get to the meat and drink of Amadeus, it's worth taking a moment to address the issue of historical accuracy. It's something which can be boring to talk about, and which is often dragged up to discredit a film as it tries to garner awards. We can all think of examples of films which blatantly and consciously distort the truth, such as U-571, which credits the Americans, not the British, with cracking the Enigma code. But while capturing period detail should be praised on a technical level, historical accuracy is not a sign or guarantee of a good story. Film is a narrative medium, and with subjective allowances for taste and respect for an audience's intelligence, telling a good story is more important than getting the facts right.

In the case of Amadeus, we are confronted with a story which is at best a long-discredited theory and at worst an utter fabrication. There is little or no evidence to suggest that Antonio Salieri was responsible for the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the fact that he taught one of Mozart's sons would suggest that they were actually on friendly, or at least respectful, terms. But neither the film nor Peter Shaffer's play have historical accuracy as their prime motive. Both are more interested in telling a story about how rivalry manifests itself, and the relationship genius has with a world either not ready for it or unwilling to accommodate it.

The question that follows is whether Mozart's life is the right vehicle for this kind of story, whose ruthless, scheming character might be more suited to a political thriller. When The Iron Lady was released, the director Phyllida Lloyd said she had wanted to make a film about dealing with age - the obvious criticism being that she could have told that story without making a biopic of Margaret Thatcher. In this case, however, Mozart is the ideal topic or vessel for this kind of story. His reputation and character fit closely with our cultural notions of what genius is, allowing Shaffer and director Milo Forman to get on with the storytelling.

While the story itself is not problematic (at least not as a piece of entertainment), the storytelling in Amadeus is perhaps its biggest problem. The opening scenes look absolutely gorgeous: Miroslav Ond??ek, who worked with Lindsay Anderson on If...., pulls the audience in with a series of elegant, painterly images. But once the credits end and the action moves indoors, everything becomes very stagey. The framing device of the elderly Salieri, relating his story to a priest in the asylum, is not successful, and the film works better the less it is employed.

For most of its first hour, in either of its cuts, Amadeus is essentially a silly, frothy, overblown costume drama. It is far more interested in the costumes, the huge wigs and the pompous characters that wear them than it is in the creation of the music or the personalities behind it. The film employs broad comedy, usually in the form of fart jokes, and its recreation of opera is completely ridiculous. It doesn't have the grace or the understatement of Barry Lyndon, and makes you appreciate the comparative meatiness of The Madness of King George.

Matters aren't helped in this regard by the annoying nature of the central character. Tom Hulce, a graduate of Animal House, is a good actor who clearly threw himself into the part: having never played piano before, he practised for more than four hours a day upon landing the role. But while his skills are not in doubt, his Mozart is one of the most annoying and excruciating characters outside of an Adam Sandler comedy. Just as we aren't supposed to hate Salieri, so we are not expected to entirely like Mozart. But all his juvenile qualities are overplayed and repeated ad nauseum: it's not so much "too many notes" as too many laughs.

As a result of both the framing device and the juvenile tone, we spend the first hour distant from our main characters. We are distant from Mozart because he's an irritating little twit, and we are distant from Salieri because his narration keeps interrupting the action. As a result the jealousy and scheming on the latter's part feels like a deliberate plot device rather than a natural result of their relationship. The words are still pleasant on the ear, but you are left wishing that Shaffer could write more like his namesake Anthony Shaffer, creator of Sleuth.

About halfway in, specifically the section concerning Don Giovanni, Amadeus begins to pick itself up and grab its core themes by the scruff of the neck. The death of Mozart's father, and the composer's accompanying decline into illness, give the film not only a darker tone but a depth that it didn't have before. The serious reaction to a tragic event gives the film more credibility: by taking the matter seriously, it allows us to take the characters more seriously and for Salieri's subsequent actions to carry more weight.

The film merits a comparison in this regard with Rush, Ron Howard's thrilling drama about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Both stories concern a rivalry between two talented men, but this rivalry is initially presented in a broad, overly playful way; the film is still entertaining, but we are conscious of how little is going on between its ears. Then something dark or unfortunate happens to one of the men which gives the drama a stake and the rivalry a meaning. Going dark is by no means a guarantee of a good story, but in both cases it is just what the films needed.

The main theme which this dark turn enables to unfold is the conflict between genius and mediocrity, and how graceless the two can be. Mozart's genius is confronted by mediocrity on all sides - from Salieri, whose position as court composer is threatened; from the Prince, who has very limited taste; and from his courtiers who don't want their power to be undermined. Neither Mozart nor Salieri conduct themselves well, with Mozart foregoing all decorum to defend his compositions, and Salieri working behind the scenes to bring about his downfall. Mozart's lack of social grace is mirrored by Salieri's lack of morals.

The role of parents in Amadeus is a key one. Salieri's father discourages his son's ambitions, and his death serves as a (misplaced) vindication for Salieri, of both his Catholic faith and his musical ability. Mozart, by contrast, is spoiled rotten by his father, who recognises his abilities but struggles to contain them beyond presenting Mozart as a performing monkey. When his father was alive but out of the picture, Mozart is free to make a name for himself in a carefree manner - but with him dead, this carefree nature gives way to a desire for atonement, which leads him to work obsessively on the unfinished Requiem.

The film is also interested in Catholicism, specifically the role God has in meting out talent and answering prayer. Salieri's prayers go unrewarded since he is asking God for the wrong things in the wrong way, seeking to curse rather than love his enemies. At the end of the film, he comments that "God killed Mozart" rather than let him share in any part of his talent, including the transcription of the Requiem. While the film's theological understanding of gifts is not entirely sound, it is an interesting lens through which to view and depict jealousy.

Much of the success of Amadeus lies in its music. Even in its weaker first half the music is wonderfully produced, conveying to us how great Mozart was instead of having people simply state his greatness, as in Gandhi. More importantly, Forman does succeed in making the creative process of writing and composing both cinematic and exciting. In one really special moment, Salieri flips through Mozart's portfolio, and hears the music on the page perfectly formed in his head. It's a wonderful moment which F. Murray Abraham superbly executes, keeping his character on a tightrope between envy and euphoria.

Amadeus is a film of two distinct halves, with the virtues of its substantial second eventually winning out over the frothy excesses of its first. Once you get past the costumes, the wigs and the irritating laughter, it does become an interesting, memorable cinematic venture with a brace of pretty good performances. It doesn't quite deserve the reputation that won it the Best Picture Oscar, but among even that select group of films, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
Super Reviewer
August 1, 2009
By bouts hilariously witty, nerve-wrackingly tense and profoundly moving, all the while beautifully shot and thoughtfully put together. An astounding achievement. Full review later.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2012
Who doesn't love this film? The costumes and locations alone are a feast for the eyes. (Of course, the historical accuracy is close to zero, but I still love it as a period film.)
Super Reviewer
½ June 23, 2012
Fantastic! Every second is a delight of visuals, brilliant production value, exalting character and of course, the wonders of great music, a whole new way to experience the music. People should do more movies like this. The story is well and crafty, it has great evocative power. I haven't seen a movie quite a well as this one.
Super Reviewer
½ February 23, 2012
Amadeus is one of the most entertaining biographies put on screen, and possibly the best one about a musician ever. It is also the most effective transplanting of a stage play to screen (in the pantheon with Grease or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

It's about Mozart (Tom Hulce), but he's actually a very substantial supporting player to murderously jealous forgotten composer Antonio Salieri -the actual lead role (deserving best Actor Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham), Eclectic director Milos Forman deftly handles the intimate and emotional scenes as well as the big sweeping, sumptuous epic Viennese scenes.

The supporting performances are all wonderful, memorable and indelible, and I've seen this movie many times. Many viewers have complained about the American accents, especially those of Mozart, his spunky wife Costanze (the underrated Elizabeth Berridge, who acts her heart and soul in this role, flat American accent aside), Emperor Franz Josef (the stellar character actor Jeffery Jones), Mozart's grumpy controlling dad Leopold (Ray Dotrice) and Abraham himself. I say poppycock (I never actually say poppycock), why should original German speaking characters only speak with British accents? Perhaps more of an issue is that there is a weird mix of American and British accents among Viennese people.

The art direction and wardrobe is both lush and believably grungy, and Vienna, (Prague on location) feels like a real place where people live, both nobles and peasants. From a production point of view, this is as good as it gets.

I recommend the director's cut, there are huge story holes in the original studio version. Numerous story points are vague and unexplained in the official release, especially the coercive sexual relationship between Salieri and Costanze, which is only vaguely hinted at in the shorter version. Both versions are long, and the director's cut is longer, but you've got more than three hours to burn, right? The director's cut also has even more of Wolfgang's music, which is the only soundtrack, and the cues are expertly chosen and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

On the down side, the film is not historically accurate at all, and it's unlikely that Salieri 'killed' Mozart out of envy, though apparently he boasted of it in his confused senile final days. Playwright Peter Shaffer had some burning point to make about art, jealousy and desire, and the randomness of god in choosing his 'servant' but these points are more the driving force behind the play than the movie. It feels like he's setting up a 'straw man' in Salieri to make his thesis. To me, the theme is not that important. The character study in the movie is richer and stronger than the play. Some of the scheming of Salieri doesn't really make much sense, and Mozart seems too smart to be such a sap in reacting to the scheming. It's also really long. That aside, pop it in your Blu Ray player and crank up the symphonic delights on your surround sound.
Super Reviewer
October 25, 2009
A thematically rich masterpiece loaded with sadness and depression over rising star Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) who met his demise at too young an age, aided by a bitter rival (F. Murray Abraham) who has the balls to act like he is his friend throughout his rise and fall. When a movie features two terrific lead performances (you could make a case Abraham and Hulce should have been the first duo to share the "Best Actor" Oscar - as both are magnificent), an excellent soundtrack, astounding makeup, and captures a piece in history so thoroughly, it is easy to be enthralled no matter what the running time. This is just a spellbinding epic about revenge and betrayal put against a scrumptious backdrop and hair-raising sets. An overall wonderful movie, and a must-see for anyone that treasures the art of music.
Super Reviewer
½ December 9, 2008
For a three hour (yes, it's that long) film, none of it dragged, all of it was entertaining, and there was minimal exaggeration to its greatness. With the luxuriousness of a period piece many liberties can be taken, and Amadeus is no exception. From the vibrant costuming and ornate sets to the tension and atmosphere of the subject matter, there was little to be desired in the way of a biopic. Instead we are faced with a packed movie about two distinct personalities, one prudent yet disturbed, another fickle and yet genius in a way no one can attain. Besides having to have an inert appreciation of classical music or at least the art form, you must not take this too seriously, else you won't lose yourself in the plot and intrigue. The film focuses on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a childish composer brought to Vienna from Salzburg in order to comprise a German opera, which morphs into a bitter battle with the court's composer, Salieri, though mostly this rages in Salieri's own mind. Much emphasis is placed on Salieri's anger and torment at God, who granted him a wish to become a great composer, but did not give him the born talent of Mozart, who is brash and whose laugh is as annoying as his antics. Once Salieri places a secret vendetta against the composer in order to plot his death it becomes quite interesting. Instead of traditional merits of murder he breaks his younger colleague down until he takes ill, demons eating away at the last remnant of his soul. This literal takedown of all that Mozart is makes for great cinema, the psychological implications drawing you in as the ending becomes as poignant as any masterpiece should be. In the end, Salieri could kill a voice, but not silence an orchestra, a beautiful admission though crazed, the setting ripe for that assessment. There are flaws and it isn't a very polished story, but you could never say you didn't enjoy it.
Super Reviewer
March 8, 2011
Rarely is a movie made that is as sublimely watchable as this one. The film grabs hold of you two minutes in and doesn't let go until two and a half hours later when it releases you from the trance, leaving you dazzled by what you've just seen and shocked that the film lasted that long. Virtually flawless, the film features striking performances from F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, who each let the viewer into their character's complex emotions and thoughts. This film is genius. This film is a classic.
Super Reviewer
½ May 9, 2007
This film never fails to blow me a way, no matter how many times I've seen it. From the first scene where Salieri is found in his home, having slashed his own throat, it just grabs me and never lets go. The whole production is fabulous -- costumes, sets, the whole shebang -- and the score is all Mozart all the time, of course. The performance of Tom Hulce as Mozart is impressive, but it's F. Murray Abraham who is the true star here. He justly won an Oscar for his portrayal of alleged rival Antonio Salieri., and is right up there as one of my all-time favorite performances. The only reason this doesn't get 5 stars with me is I felt that Elizabeth Berridge's performance Mozart's wife Costanza was a weak link and kinda brought things down a little. Otherwise, a feast for the eyes and ears. Who cares if it isn't historically accurate?
Super Reviewer
November 27, 2010
Perfect! This film is one of the best films that I have ever seen. Magnificent in ever way a film can....the acting, cinematography, story, emotion, music, pace, direction. This film is a masterpiece; I cannot believe I waited so long to watch it.

F. Murray Abraham delivers one of the best male performances that I have seen. He steals every scene as Salieri. Even while he sits in his chair as an old man, he still gives a huge level of emotion. I truly was touched by his performance. Tom Hulce as Mozart also gives a very strong performance. Both actors received Oscar nominations for Best Actor, but only Mr. Abraham took home the coveted award, as he gives one of the best male performances ever.

The cinematography, art direction, costumes, makeup, etc. were unbeleivable. Each scene is real to the proper time period.

So much needs to be said about this film, but there are no words to describe this masterpiece. It's one of those films that you have to experience for yourself. It's perfect and one of the best of all time. I absolutely recommend it!
Super Reviewer
August 25, 2010
Amadeus is one of the greatest films you will ever see. Milos Foreman delivers a film like no other.A tremendous tour de force, Amadeus chronicles the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the subsequent jealous rage by rival composer Antonio Salieri. This film is rich with talent, and everyone here displays tremendous skills on screen. Tom Hulche performance as Amadeus Mozart is impressive, his performance stole the show. Hulce portrays Mozart with comic wit and style. One of the best part of the film is watching F Murray Abraham in the character of Antonio Salieri as he constantly tries to outdo Mozart and he secretly plans the murder of Mozart. Amadeus is an exquisite piece of cinema that should be cherished as it is a very brilliant film. Milos Foreman who also also directed One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest delivers yet another astounding piece of cinema. Amadeus is a film that belongs on the shelf of the greatest films ever made.
Super Reviewer
½ November 5, 2006
The life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as seen through the eyes of envious court composer Antonio Salieri is brought to sumptuous life by Milos Forman in this deservedly multi-Oscar winning adaptation of Peter Schaeffer's play. Tom Hulce is not the first name that springs to mind when thinking of the great composer, but his exuberant performance shows Mozart as a passionate and above all human man with an overflowing confidence in his work and abilities. The centrepiece of the film however is a stunning performance by F. Murray Abraham as his bitter "rival" who sees the man's amazing talent as a slight on his own modest works by god himself. A fine supporting cast and lavish costumery bring the Vienna of the time to believable life and the use of some of the greatest pieces of music ever composed cleverly shows Mozart's prolific skill, his internal turmoil and conflicting pressures that eventually lead to his death. Schaeffer takes some liberties with the facts of his life, but this kind of artistic license makes for the kind of fascinating drama and wonderful characterisation that reaches far beyond the life of one man. It does falter very slightly towards the end as it misses Hulce's larger than life persona after Mozart falls ill, but it's one of those films that shows that the Academy CAN get it right from time to time.
Super Reviewer
August 3, 2006
A much recommended film by my Flixster friends and a worthy one at that.

Firstly a wonderful performance by F. Murray Abraham, who was great throughout, also a good performance by Tom Hulce, who gave a quirky performance as the title character.

I'm not sure how true these events were, but they were very entertaining and gave a certain surprise to the presumed nature of Mozart.

Tantrums, childlike behaviour and every inch the genius, this was surely the making of a legend, who would believe today that he'd been a struggling artist.

From the concerts to the operas, the composing of the music and the very art put into this film, on a production level, it really was quite something and for an almost 3 hour film, this was a continual piece of entertainment.
Super Reviewer
July 30, 2008
One of my Favortie movies of all time!!! EVERYONE in this movie is fantastic. major probs go to Tom Hulce (of course!! he is wonderful) F. Murray Abraham and also to Elizabeth Berridge. I dont really know what it is about her character but simply the way she shows how much she really cared for "Wolfy" was really touching. Jeffery Jones was very enjoyable as well.
If you enjoy Mozart or any other classical music (Mozart happens to be my personal favorite) see this movie...not only is it enjoyable to what the performances and listen to the music but this movie truley is a work of art and does every thing a movie should make you do. Laugh, Cry, and most importantly FEEL for the characters. If you havent seen this movie yet you are really missing out.
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2007
can be accused of being a tad overlong, but all in all this is a phenomenal film. the music and opera scenes are the real draw, but the entire film is engaging and delightful. the film had a decidingly 80's feel but this doesnt detract at all from what is easily one of the best films of the entire decade.
Super Reviewer
½ December 17, 2008
"Amadeus. The man. The music. The magic. The madness. The murder. The mystery. The motion picture."

The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told in flashback mode by Antonio Salieri - now confined to an insane asylum.

"Amadeus" is based on the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer. It portrays a fictionalized account of the life of famous classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, emphasizing an intense rivalry between him and composer Antonio Salieri. The film creates a great sense of period with lavish sets and elegant costumes.

Tom Hulce leads the cast as Mozart with great energy and he creates a memorable character. Mozart is portrayed as a man whose vices and juvenile conduct are only exceeded by his genius in creating music. My favorite performance of the film, however, is F. Murray Abraham's skillful performance as Mozart's rival, Antonio Salieri. He convincingly creates a Salieri that narrates the story as a conniving and bitter man, but manages to elicit sympathy when he laments that he can never be as prolific or well-known as Mozart. There are excellent supporting performances in the film, too, including Elizabeth Berridge as Mozart's patient wife Constanze and Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II with a matter-of-fact manner.

The rivalry between Mozart and Salieri is well-developed and the film never becomes tiresome despite its length. In addition to the characterizations, the film appropriately includes dazzling segments of classical music and representations of staged operas. The end narration of Salieri is very well-written and touching. Truly F. Murray Abraham's Salieri is a champion for mediocrity.
Super Reviewer
March 25, 2007
A powerful film, I'd love to see the Director's Cut.
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