Shine - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Shine Reviews

Page 1 of 57
Super Reviewer
½ June 12, 2011
Famous bio-pic is indeed well done and engaging as we follow a young piano prodigy from his formative years to modern day, with the emphasis on his manic relationship with his father. In typical Hollywood fashion, while Rush won Best Oscar for his fragile portrayal of a wounded artist, the film is actually carried by Armin Mueller-Stahl whose work as the "tyrannical father" sails way past convention to reveal a complex picture of an artist himself denied. This is the film George Lucas meant for "Phantom Menace".
Super Reviewer
July 22, 2008
Bittersweet biography dealing with Australian concert pianist David Helfgott who suffered from mental illness. Most of the film concerns his formative years as a musical prodigy. He escapes the tyrannical rule of his father who disowns him after he departs for London upon being offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Armin Mueller-Stahl makes an indelible impression as his domineering father in a truly unsympathetic portrayal. Helfgott's ongoing obsession with executing Rachmaninoff's technically demanding Piano Concerto No. 3 ultimately reaches an exhilarating manic apex. The narrative is a bit murky when it comes to Helfgott's subsequent psychological breakdown. Are his problems caused by the virtually unplayable composition or the result of physical and mental abuse by his father? It's never quite clear, but regardless, the scene that highlights the performance of this piece is a beautifully edited sequence of talent and dementia. Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in the role of the virtuoso as an adult, but Noah Taylor actually registers much more screen time with his sensitive depiction as the adolescent David.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ November 8, 2010
Few words fill a critic with such dread as "the triumph of the human spirit". There have been legions of films about individuals coming through against all odds, and for every time a director gets it right (The Elephant Man, Ed Wood, The Madness of King George), we get a gross of self-important, 'worthy' films, whose attempts at genuine emotional engagement fall desperately short of the mark. Shine is one of the better examples of this genre, containing a number of good performances and attempting to explore some interesting ideas. But it is not a complete success and fourteen years after its Oscar glory, its flaws are plain to see.

For its first forty-five minutes, Shine is a well-made, technically accomplished biopic of piano prodigy David Helfgott which manages to get to grips with some of the issues which resulted from such an extraordinary amount of talent. We are given a father-son relationship which on the surface seems straightforward, but which is actually more nuanced than first appears. In the initial scenes between Noah Taylor and Armin Mueller-Stahl, it feels like a standard proud father or pushy parent relationship. But as the drama unfolds we begin to understand the father's own conflicts surrounding music and the pressures surrounding both characters.

Both father and son are essentially reacting to the extraordinary talent bequeathed to David. David's response is initially to obey his father, both by winning competitions and by practising to be as good as he can. The father's response is oppressive, at least to us, but it is motivated both by regret of his own missed opportunities and by a desire for David to be "a winner". On a couple of occasions he mentions how he saved up to buy a violin, only for his own father to smash it in front of him. Mueller-Stahl is conflicted by the desire to avoid that mistake, but at the same time a genetic desire to control his son. Hence he encourages him to play but refuses to pay for outside lessons or to allow David to go to America.

Several reviews of Shine have pointed out the factual inaccuracies in this portrayal, claiming that Helfgott's upbringing was nowhere near as oppressive as the film depicts. While the film may be guilty of telling the 'Hollywood version' of events, it just about gets away with it at the start because the ideas it is exploring are both interesting dramatically and pertinent to the character. As in The Elephant Man and Ed Wood, it doesn't always matter that the facts aren't completely in order, so long as the events are cohesive with the artistic intentions of the writer and director.

Shine explores the idea that music is all-pervasive: it surrounds and influences every human action, whether it is celebrated as high art or dismissed as base cacophony. It also manages to make highbrow classical music incredibly interesting, even to those of us who couldn't care less about Rachmaninoff. Sir John Gielgud's flowery speeches as he describes the conflicts in "the Rach Three" are indicative of a batch of characters who are utterly in love not just with individual pieces but the whole concept of music. This is echoed in Scott Hicks' direction; during Noah Taylor's performance, he shoots the piano and Taylor's hands from every conceivable angle, both to show the actor is actually playing the music and to get us caught up in the invisible battle between the notes.

Such decisions, however, are the beginning of a number of problems which eventually hobble the movie. Having gone to so much trouble to replicate the music on film (right down to Geoffrey Rush acting as his own hand double) Hicks spoils it all by resorting to clichéd slow motion during the pivotal performance. We end up being impressed by Taylor's recital and the level of physical exertion, but slowing down the film to show his hair being bathed in sweat is simply unnecessary. Such a device takes all the momentum out of the music, and after this sequence the film never really recovers.

Melodrama in itself is not a bad thing, but Shine is guilty of a number of unnecessary concessions towards it, either in a plea for sympathy or as a means of moving the plot forward. There are a number of plot holes which are slightly troubling when trying to piece the film together. For instance, David Helfgott arrives at the Royal College of Music in London straight after walking out on his family: how did he get the money for the trip, or a passport for that matter?

In the second half of the film, after Taylor has disappeared from our screens, the plot begins to barrel along at a breakneck pace so that we miss out on a lot of potentially interesting scene. To some extent this is understandable, since Hicks' probably didn't have the money to cast a multitude of different actors to play Helfgott as he aged over a period of ten years. Nonetheless the film feels hurried and begins to lose sight of its thematic intentions. One could argue that Hicks is attempting to tell the story as Helfgott would: fast-talking, jabbering and unable to focus on anything for too long. But this theory doesn't hold much water when you consider the viewpoint of Hicks' camera, which only shows David's POV on a select few occasions.

Even more problematic than this is the film's tendency in his second half to resort to biopic clichés, as if the filmmakers were deliberately positioning it for awards. Being a film about the triumph of the human spirit, we know that our protagonist is going to come to terms with their difficulties and everything will be happily resolved. But the pandering to convention extends further than just the plot outline. Geoffrey Rush, who is a talented actor, plays the adult Helfgott as essentially a holy fool, borrowing heavily from Dustin Hoffman's performance in Rain Man.

The film is at heart an actors' romp, with only Taylor coming through with the goods and giving a genuinely brilliant performance. Rush is okay, but both he and Lynn Redgrave are tuned to a high setting, with arms and big emotions flying all over the place in an increasingly irritating manner. Mueller-Stahl mumbles his way through in a decent but unremarkable performance, and Gielgud is clearly enjoying himself as David's tutor, who can no longer play the piano because of a stroke. It's not a million miles from his performance in The Elephant Man, albeit with a little more pomp and a lot less gravitas.

The only other real surprise with Shine is the amount of nudity. The film is a 12 certificate, and therefore we don't get anything that could be called 'full-frontal'. But several sequences involving nudity seem to come almost out of nowhere with little or no bearing on the plot. There are several shots of Helfgott, played by both Taylor and Rush, wearing nothing from the waist down, including a bizarre sequence of Rush bouncing on a trampoline in nothing but a pair of headphones and a tatty overcoat. Oddest of all is the scene where two rebellious pupils take David to a club, at which point the camera cuts to near-naked dancers and Marc Warren as a drag queen. Scenes like this are not exploitative, but they aren't exactly central to the plot.

In the grand scheme of films about the triumph of the human spirit, Shine does better than most but comes nowhere near the likes of Ed Wood or The Madness of King George. As an examination of mental illness it is neither as compelling nor as heartbreaking as A Beautiful Mind, and even when taken as a full-on melodrama, it is a lot less satisfying than Intermezzo, let alone The Red Shoes. It's worth seeing for the central performances and a number of visual touches which prevent it from slipping into the realm of TV movies. But it has precious little else to stand on, and is further proof that the Academy should not always, if ever, be taken at its word.
Super Reviewer
April 4, 2010
Eccentric, tempid, heartbreaking. Shine is all of these, yet none. Hidden meanings are encoded in every statement, every gesture, until there's only laughter and joy. Geoffrey Rush, one of the best actors working today, delivers a performance worth watching undoubtedly.
Super Reviewer
½ October 19, 2009
A triumphant movie concerning the life of a gifted pianist and his failed relationship with his verbally abusive father. Geoffrey Rush's extraordinary performance carries this movie, this is a great film.
Super Reviewer
July 17, 2009
It's taken a few beers--uh, I mean a few days--for me to figure out what exactly I want to say about this movie. The first thing I'd like to say -- and you can take it or leave it -- is that the flixster synopsis is, well, let's just say it's not the synopsis I'd write. If I were doing the synopsis, I'd say probably that we should look for the earliest significant detail in this sorta-biopic "true" story of David Helfgott's roller-coaster life ride. But I don't even know who Gérard Genette is, so I'll just say this. If you'd like to look to the "source" of the problem in Helfgott's life, you might want to go -- not to his father -- the obvious choice -- but to the little stories Armin Mueller-Stahl, as Helfgott's father, let's surface over the course of the movie. Remember the violin story? Mueller-Stahl let's that one surface twice. It's the story, incomplete the second time, of how he saved his money to buy a violin, when he himself was a child, and "Do you know what happened to that violin?" The first time we hear the "complete" tale; we hear the conclusion. David's father's father smashed that violin to pieces. The second time we hear the story, when Geoffrey Rush is finally on board playing the older David, we do not hear the end of the sad story, but we don't need to hear it -- we already know that it was smashed up by David's grandfather. So what? Well, we might be tempted, on a first viewing, to place an incredible amount of the burden for David's "problems" on his father -- Mueller-Stahl is brilliant in this role. But I would place a cautionary tag on that assumption and argue that the problem goes back at least to some very hairy father-son relationship in the generation that comes before. A beautiful film, friends. I'm glad it finally bubbled up my rental queue. Last, but certainly not least, kudos to director Scott Hicks. I can't say I've ever seen anything he's done, but this is truly a beautiful job of film direction.
Super Reviewer
½ April 12, 2008
EXcellent performance from Geoffrey Rush about an eccentric man who is a brilliant pianist.
Super Reviewer
November 14, 2006
Cecil Parkes: Rachmaninov? Are you sure?
David: Kind of. I'm not really sure about anything.
Cecil Parkes: The Rach 3. It's monumental.
David: It's a mountain. The hardest piece you could everest play.

Here is a very good film about a child piano prodigy who was on his way to greatness, despite problems between him and his father, only to fall subject to a mental breakdown, but leading to essentially a building back up of himself.

This movie is made better by the performances of Geoffrey Rush and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

The film has separate parts, divided between three stages of the child prodigy, David Helfcot's life.

Starting with the youngest version, we know David is talented, and his father, Mueller-Stahl, only wants the best from him, literally.

Peter Helfgott: In this world only the strong survive. The weak get crushed like insects.

Unfortunately, with good reason, David's father is very hesitant at allowing David to grow outside his home. It's not out of stubbornness, its more about not letting the family separate, which is clarified better in the film.

The college aged David, played by Noah Taylor, has moved on as a greater piano player, with his father still wanting to keep him from growing to far, most of all not to America.

During a particular performance, requiring all that he has, David literally breaks down and is never quite the same.

Getting to adult David, played by Rush, David is now a very eccentric individual, sputtering words, laughing affably at most situations, but begins to play piano again.

Once Rush takes the main spotlight of the film, the joy of this film truly takes off. Rush is so great in this role. A real piano player, the combination of this skill and a harnessing of David's mannerisms is portrayed very well.

The soundtrack is of course wonderful as well.

Great performances in this film.

David: Would you marry me?
Gillian: Well, it wouldn't be very practical, David.
David: Practical? No, of course not. Of course not. But then neither am I, Gillian. Neither am I. I'm not very practical at all.
Sylvia: You'll miss the plane!
Gillian: It's sweet of you, David. I don't know what to say.
David: The stars, Gillian darling! Ask the stars!
Super Reviewer
February 27, 2007
This is a very difficult movie to take in. It's based on David Helfgott's true story: an international pianist child prodigy, mistreated and subjected to his father's insecurities to a dreadful degree, who suffered a breakdown during his adolescence and spent years living entirely away from reality until he overcame everything and returned to his passion: David, with the support he'd gained for being just a great person, was able to win back his life in the end. It's a very inspiring story in every sense of fhe word. The young David is played very wel by Noah Taylor, but the adult David is played by Geoffrey Rush in an Oscar winning performance. That's a good thing in this case.

Geoffrey Rush's performance is really heartbreaking and amazing. Sweet and tender and at the same time hiding something from everyone else behind the fast talking and the cheerfulness and the jokes. I think he deserved the recognition that he got. He reminds me of the fact that really few epic performances like this one take place nowadays.

So it's a movie made in the best tradition of the good Hollywood mainstream films. featuring many excellent performances. It's a really satisfying and emotionally poweful watch.
Super Reviewer
March 22, 2007
The plot is a bit nonlinear. The images occasionally let us into the mind of a man experiencing a breakdown. The classical music adds to the emotional force of many scenes. Geoffrey Rush fully commits to the older David Helfgott trying to reenter the big wide world and make a comeback on the piano. I however found the part of the story involving the young David (Rafalowicz) and the teenage David (Taylor) more interesting. The abusive relationship between father (Mueller-Stahl) and son was tragic, but also the source of uplift when David goes his own way and has success on his own terms.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ March 28, 2014
"And so we shine while this moment slips away from us, shine while the skies are turning gray!" Wow, it's interesting how I'm such an anti-modernist music buff I am, and I just made a reference to a song that is way too new, when there are way too many other songs of the same name, although I can at least take comfort in the fact that most people don't know that "Shine", let alone when it came out. I would also take comfort in the fact that it's by Transatlantic, seeing as how I actually love Transatlantic, but unless you're willing to wait on that awesome guitar solo by Roine Stolt, that particular track is way too non-prog to justify having a seven-and-a-half-minute runtime and, well, being a vehicle for the band's vocal "abilities". Yeah, Neal Morse should just stick to playing the keyboards, although I can't say that he'd be nearly as good as David Helfgott would be if he suddenly went prog rock for some reason, something that might actually happened, because as this film will tell you, the man sure can change his mind all of a sudden, and by mind, I mean mental stability. Man, he was a loony there for a while, but hey, on top of piano, he was interested in philosophy, and I can tell you from experience that philosophy really does shake your sanity... and apparently wears down the youth. I'm sorry, but I'm utterly fascinated by the fact that this was Geoffrey Rush's first of many big breaks, and he still looked old, but by no means does that make him any less revelatory. Sorry, folks, but Rush does indeed "shine" here, but the rest of the film, well, not so much, and for a number of reasons.

Ambitiously aiming to summarize the life and struggles of the intriguing, but troubled David Helfgott, this film might be able to fulfill its intentions pretty comfortably within a two-hour runtime, but it doesn't exactly feel all that assured in its uneven pacing, which undercooks certain aspects and drags along others, until crafting a questionable storytelling formula so tight that ends up being repetitious, in addition to lacking in extensive depth. Before too long, the film becomes aimless in its unrealized momentum, meandering along a worthy path that would compel much more thoroughly, in spite of the sloppy pacing, if it wasn't so blasted familiar. If the film is nothing else, it is near-hopelessly formulaic as a 1990s biopic, not just in its structure, but in its subject matter, following a worthy, but still arguably overly traditional story of a man's rise from misfortune to respect and eventual fall from grace and stability, and doing hardly anything to freshen up its interpretation. There's almost a certain laziness to the film's being just so formulaic, and when storytelling works to try harder, it tries a touch too hard, with almost obvious dramatic visuals and atmospherics, as well as a certain thinness to dramatic characterization, which take the potential subtlety and grace of this drama and shake it, resulting in subtlety issues that, while rarely glaring, still stand, outweighing inspiration with simple ambition. The film has a tendency to try too hard at times, and yet, on the whole, it all comes back to the opposite side of the tracks: laziness, or at least a sense of laziness, deriving from a directorial atmosphere by Scott Hicks that feels too dry to carry all that much bite, which is certainly an issue when you look at what the kick ought to overshadow. Unevenly paced, conventional and sometimes unsubtle, this drama cannot afford to have those cold spells, which are never dull, and are compensated for enough through genuine heart for the final product to border on rewarding, yet tame the promising project enough for the final product to fall, or rather, limp well short of its potential. Regardless, the film keeps you going, at times pretty thoroughly, meeting plenty of cold spells with heart, even within the musical department.

Almost underexploring the musical abilities that made David Helfgott a recognizable enough name for his conflicts to be relevant, this film surprisingly doesn't play up its classical soundtrack all that much, but when it does, while you're likely to recognize the arrangements, they remain thoroughly enjoyable by their own right, and even in the tonal context of this drama. Still, like I said, there's almost a certain underexploration of the musical themes that you'd figure would be prominent in a biopic of this subject matter, and the reason for that is because this story is by no means simply about a musician's career, being more focused on a musician's struggle, both growing up and growing into madness, resulting in a layered dramatic story which, despite its familiarity, it nothing less than worthy. The execution of the story concept is questionable, but in a lot of ways, it too is worthy, with Jan Sardi delivering on a script that may not exactly be realized in its structure, in terms of both pacing and originality, or in its dramatic depth, yet still has plenty of wit to its lighter moments of relief, as well as a healthy degree of heart to the heavier aspects, at least on paper. When it comes to Scott Hicks' directorial interpretation of, not simply of solid subject matter, but of a decent script that delivers on dramatic effectiveness more often than not, as I've said, a certain dryness really makes it hard to deny the other flaws in storytelling, and yet, the final product is rarely especially bland in its coldness, as Hicks sustains an adequate degree of momentum through tight plays on tight spots in writing, punctuated by an orchestration of musical atmosphere, if not haunting quietness that is piercing. Moments of considerable resonance are rare, but they still stand, as surely as moments of fair compellingness stand throughout the film, which still has too many slow spells for comfort, although endears through and through, even though the offscreen performances don't exactly compel through and through. When inspiration feels lacking in storytelling, the performances make up for it, with standout portrayals including Armin Mueller-Stahl as Helfgott's overbearing father, and Noah Taylor, whose understandably career-igniting portrayal a young and passionate, yet still unstable young Helfgott is still not quite as revelatory as Geoffrey Rush's Oscar-winning portrayal of an older, even more unstable Helfgott, whose unnerving eccentricities and emotional sensitivity are nailed with transformative commitment by Rush. It's a long while before Rush is really used, but when that time comes, he's a powerhouse who drives the final product's most effective moments, in between which remains enough heart to the portrayal of a worthy talent to charm and engage serviceably, if improvably.

Once the light has faded, the momentum of the drama is weakened too much by unevenly paced, formulaic, sometimes unsubtle, and often even dry storytelling for the final product to reward, but there's enough taste to the soundtrack, heart to the script and direction, power to the performances, - at least those by Armin Mueller-Stahl, Noah Taylor and the show-stealing Geoffrey Rush - and, of course, value to the subject matter to secure Scott Hicks' "Shine" as a decent and often compelling, if ultimately underwhelming portrait on the sensitivity of a genius' mentality.

2.75/5 - Decent
Super Reviewer
September 28, 2012
Geoffrey Rush is absolutely fantastic here. I have a high standard for the portrayal of the mentally ill as many actors often rush to stereotypes but I think Rush has it dead on.
Super Reviewer
½ November 1, 2011
Geoffrey Rush is phenomenal in this movie, the kind of performance that turns this into a must see film and deservedly won an Oscar among other accolades. Armin Mueller-Stahl is also brilliant and although outshone by Rush, still deserves a mention.
Anthony L.
Super Reviewer
½ August 21, 2010
This movie was amazing overall. It was very inspiring but also very good performances by actor noah taylor.
Super Reviewer
½ September 3, 2009
It took awhile for this movie to get going. The second half was a lot more interesting. Rush did an amazing job.
Super Reviewer
November 21, 2007
A simple but outstanding tale of a musical prodigy worn down by his overbearing father. Noah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush - who did much of the piano playing himself - are stunning in this, as is the music, even if you have no idea who Rachmaninoff is. Definitely worth watching.
December 16, 2007
It's the type of movie where a single performance can take a movie to the next level. Rush was incredible as the older David Helfgott. A heartwarming story about a one-of-a-kind piano player.
January 17, 2013
Just when I thought I had most of the best "biographical dramas" accounted for, "Shine" comes out of left field and gloriously sideswipes me with its beautifully inspiring story, provocative structure, and its manifestly perfect performance from Geoffrey Rush.
February 1, 2012
Powerful performances by the two actors in this. Stahl was one of those characters you'd like at first and the hate and go back and forth. It was hard for me to like him, then at the same time felt sorry for him.
But, the highlight here is Rush. By far one of the best performance he's done. I pretty much didn't even see Rush, I saw David.
Being based on a true story there isn't a whole lot more to say about it. Worth watching if you haven't seen it.
Page 1 of 57