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SHINE, 1996
Movie Review

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SHINESHINE, 1996
Movie Reviews

Directed by Scott Hicks

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Noah Taylor and Lynn Redgrave
Review by Russell Hill


SYNOPSIS:

Based on the true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, this delightful movie charts the early and traumatic early years. Telling the story in flashback we see David as he grows up and into a child prodigy while his father abuses him and his siblings with the memory of his childhood in Europe and the loss of his family in the concentration camps. David finally breaks away from his father and goes away to study overseas, he later suffers a breakdown and returns to Australia and a life in an institution. Many years later he is released and through several twists of fate (in reality even more unlikely than film portrays) he starts playing a piano in a bar before finally returning to the concert hall.

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REVIEW:

Again watched one late night on BBC television, a station which I am sure is responsible for myself enjoying in excess of twenty films which I wouldn’t have seen, this wonderful film of triumph over adversity and genuine talent being the brightest element of any one thing in the human soul is a piece of remarkable cinema which must be viewed by anyone who enjoys a superb film when they see one. Based on real-life events, this movie is simply something to marvel at.

Pianist David Helfgott (Rush) is talented to say the least. Raised in Australia by a poor close-knit family, theirs is an idealistic one but are overseen by their tyrannical father Paul (Mueller-Stahl). Seeing his sons’ talent for playing, he pushes him wherever he goes but this comes at a price and young David is punished whenever he fails. Taught over the years by respected Isaac Stern, he is moulded into a genius matched only by Rachmaninov. Upon reaching adolescence, David is given the chance to study at a respected American University but his father forbids it. Instead, David is given yet another opportunity to learn at The Royal College of Music in London. Accepting this offer, David is banned from entering the family home forever. This amount of pressure is too much for David, and during a performance he suffers a nervous breakdown which he never recovers from. The rest of the movie deals with David trying to form himself as a talent once again, and what a sight it is to see.

The narrative of the movie is not linear whatsoever, and at times it flips from David as an adult to during his younger days. I do not know if the portrayal of Paul is true in any way at all, but if this man was anything like his cinematic representation than what a monster he was. However loving his intentions were, mental bullying is not exactly in the manual on how to be a father and here Paul seems to rip up every page of that manual and read from his own textbook. And this movie is made just that bit special by those who star throughout.

Although Geoffrey Rush was the one who played David and won an Oscar as a result, it is Noah Taylor who I believe should receive the loudest of plaudits. His nervous and innocent performance of adolescent David to when he suffered a nervous breakdown is the mark of a fine actor who has gone on to undertake further recognised roles since the release of this movie. Unlike in many films which are based on musical prodigies, you actually believe that Noah is the one playing the piano and responsible for creating such wonder from those ivory bars.

Ably surrounded by Noah is Geoffrey Rush. A respected actor who has become famous with the younger cinephiles due to his Captain Barbossa persona in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, it is roles like this one which actors such as Mr Rush must have caused his hands to rub with glee. It is not often that such an acting gig comes along, and here in the form of Mr Helfgott you witness a performance worthy of being labelled as Oscar-worthy. His fall from grace is not pretty, and the way in which you see David reform himself as a respected musician is heartbreaking to say the least. As mentioned already, the fact remains of whether this to be a true representation or not remains another question but what we witness on the silver screen is certainly emotional.

As in all great movies, there is always a bad guy and this comes in the form of the monstrous father, Paul. Mueller Stahl does awfully well here as the character he plays is an oxymoron in itself-a horrible man who mentally tortures his offspring but loves them at the same time. I don’t know how others felt when watching this movie but I always feel sorry for Paul here. A man surrounded by a potentially blissful family, he decides to ruin it all by being inhuman to those he should he caring for. It is quite pleasing to see that towards the end, David hates his father but despises himself for doing so. Karma really has turned full-throttle here, and my how David revels in this.

Such a subject of humans’ succeeding over abuse is always a topic which should be taken with a pinch of salt. But here, in this movie based on true events which is bound to see your soul lifted towards its conclusion, you see a true gem of a film which could be spoken about in the same quality of “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca”. Don’t believe me? Watch the movie for yourself and I’m pretty damn sure your opinion will have changed.

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