February 26, 1997

Great Performances Give ‘Shine’ Its Special Shimmer

 

Just when it seemed there couldn’t possible be room for another biography in American theaters especially a good biography filmmakers surprised us.

“Shine,” the story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, is by far the most entertaining, intelligent and inspiring film of the recent rash of documentary-ish movies that includes “Evita,” “Prefontaine” and “Michael Collins.”

The most striking difference between “Shine” and the three others I mention is it is a relatively happy film. While the other three all have their inspiring moments, they all end in sadness. The only tears “Shine” will bring are tears of happiness.

Geoffrey Rush, playing the adult Helfgott, is only one of the many brilliant aspects of this film. Psychologically disturbed characters are probably the most difficult to play convincingly and sympathetically, but Rush does so with an apparent ease that makes his Academy Award nomination for the role well deserved.

Another Oscar nominee, Armin Mueller-Stahl is the second bright spot in this film. Playing Peter Helfgott, David’s father, Mueller-Stahl is positively terrifying. While there has been some controversy as to how accurate his portrayal is, I think it is fantastic regardless.

This issue of emotionally and physically abusive parents seems to come up every other week in a made-for-TV movie, but “Shine” takes the issue seriously, and it pays off.

One more of many standout performances in this movie is that of Noah Taylor, who plays the adolescent David. His role is just as challenging as Rush’s, but the younger actor handles it just as well. One of the climaxes of the film is his performance of an extremely difficult piano piece, which is filmed and acted as well as anything I’ve ever seen.

Much like “Prefontaine,” “Shine” is at times difficult to accept as a true biography. David Helfgott’s life is one of those that seemed destined for portrayal in on film because it is so dramatic without any embellishment. But that’s exactly what made the movie so difficult to execute and so satisfying to watch.

Since movie characters are often mere caricatures of real life and not always multi-dimensional, to take actual people and try to portray every aspect of their existence is a challenge not always faced, and more rarely met. “Shine” does this beautifully.

“Shine” is one of those movies you can see more than once. I’ve already seen it twice and am planning to go again. And I would recommend the film to anyone. As far as I can tell, it would be nearly impossible to set expectations for this movie that it won’t meet, and surpass.

Grade: A+

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