The unexplained whys and wherefores and the too facile assumptions of the film evaporate under the light and joyous performance of Geoffrey Rush.
Without Geoffrey Rush's amazing performance as classical pianist David Helfgott, "Shine" might have been an ordinary movie. With it, we are all too happy to brush aside the questions that would otherwise diminish the movie. His performance simply obliterates the problems.
The complexities of David's father, Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), manifest themselves as rigid Prussian cruelty. Peter's parents, and those of his wife, were killed in the Holocaust, and he guards his own family fiercely, controlling every aspect of their lives.
He escorts his young son, David (played at various ages by Alex Rafalowicz, Noah Taylor, and Geoffrey Rush), to piano competitions as if the boy were a puppy, his father's exhibit. After David loses the competition while trying to play a piano that is rolling away from him, Peter's scorn and disappointment etch themselves on the boy's heart.
When David earns a chance to go to America to study, his father vetoes the trip with the desperation of a man who believes that, if he cannot hold his family within his house, he cannot protect them. "I'm not going to let anyone destroy this family," is his response to anything that might dilute his control.
David's talent wins him an inevitable second chance in the form of a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. When the offer arrives, his father beats him senseless and screams threats that will haunt the boy forever. But David goes to London.
The balance of the movie details the price exacted by the monstrous father: David's emotional collapse, confinement in a psychiatric hospital, and permanent speech patterns of interrupted phrases and repetition. In sad reflection of his father's scorn, the young man mutters about his own flaws and failures as if replaying in his brain a tape his father might have implanted there.
After years of silence, David slowly rediscovers joy, and the sight of it is moving indeed. His fractured sentences take on the aspect of reassurance. If he has to play with his father's taunts running in his head, at least he will play.
This movie carries a tremendous punch precisely because it is true, and, by all reports, accurate. In his real life, pianist David Helfgott is once again playing concerts, including one penciled in to coincide with the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. We are repeatedly reminded of his talent as he plays much of the soundtrack for this movie.
The unexplained whys and wherefores and the too facile assumptions of the film evaporate under the light and joyous performance of Geoffrey Rush. He plays David as a wounded boy grown tall, a damaged soul never out of earshot of his demons. He manages to create a man endearing in his gentleness as he tentatively approaches new friends and begins to play after his long silence. It is an absorbing sight, a triumph for Geoffrey Rush, the actor, portraying the triumph of David Helfgott, the musician.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 49333
Studio : Fine Line Features
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h45m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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