"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