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.
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!
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.
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
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.