This is our loss and Australia's gain, because Shine comes off as one of the upper-echelon films of the year, an ambitious and unflinching look at that country's David Helfgott, a prodigy of a pianist driven insane by his father, only to emerge again after 20 years of institutionalization.
The film tracks David's tumultuous life from young boy (Alex Rafalowicz) to young man (Flirting's Noah Taylor) to adulthood (Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush). David's father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) pushes young David so hard (his motto: "Win! Win! Win!") that his mind slowly crumbles before our very eyes. And while Peter wants David to be The Best, he doesn't want him away from home, and his overprotectionism, combined with Peter's insistence that David master Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto (the "Rach 3," considered one of the most difficult piano pieces ever written), eventually drives David over the edge.
Extremely compelling for a film that is essentially a character study of one man, Shine succeeds by leaving out no detail and by masterfully using the camera to capture an inner turmoil that would be impossible for us to feel otherwise. Exquisite is the string of five-star performances by Rush, Taylor (a favorite of mine), Mueller-Stahl, and supporting players John Gielgud and Lynn Redgrave. Rush's frantic jabbering as the insane adult Helfgott so perfectly captures the mood that he deserves (and is receiving) serious notice. And let me not forget the music, which is awe-inspiring (especially the unbelievable Rach 3), and which makes you want to applaud after each piece is performed.
Shine isn't flawless, though -- the biggest problem is a serious defect in the sound quality, normally no big deal, but inexcusable in a film about music. The roundabout plot structure will not appeal to every filmgoer, and when the movie was over, I felt a bit cheated by the lack of a real ending. (Helfgott has returned to sanity and is allegedly going to play at the Oscars if Shine is nominated -- an event that the film, as it stands, would never portend.) [Note that Helfgott did play at the Oscars and Jan Sardi wrote to say that the sound problems should have been present at my screening only -- he was right. -Ed.]
I guess you can't have everything. But maybe leaving the audience hungry for more was the whole idea.
Taylor as the young adult Helfgott.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th February 1997
Distributed by: New Line Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC), Film Victoria
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 38 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: Scott Hicks
Producer: Jane Scott
Screenwriter: Jan Sardi
Starring: Geoffrey Rush as David Helfgott, Noah Taylor as (Young) David Helfgott, Armin Mueller-Stahl as Peter Helfgott, Justin Braine as Tony, Sonia Todd as Sylvia, Chris Haywood as Sam, Alex Rafalowicz as David Helfgott, Lynn Redgrave as Gillian, Googie Withers as Katharine Susannah Prichard, John Gielgud as Cecil Parkes, John Gielgud as Cecil Parkes