Shine (1996) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for nudity/sensuality and intense thematic elements
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Alex Rafalowicz, Lynn Redgrave
Director: Scott Hicks
Screenplay: Jan Sardi, Scott Hicks

Review published May 21, 2001

Based on the true story of master pianist David Helfgott, Shine is a tour-de-force of acting by the three actors who play him in the film, most notably, of course, Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth, Mystery Men) in his breakthrough performance.  The film starts off in modern day, but flashes back for most of the first hour to David's childhood, where a stern father commands his every move to become the best pianist he can be.  However, father isn't willing to make the sacrifice of David's departure to a music scholarship when the time comes, and summarily disowns him.  David goes anyway, learning to control his passionate playing, achieving a balance which earns him award after award for his playing brilliance.  Calamity strikes when David suffers a breakdown, whisking him away to a mental institution which frowns on David playing the piano for fear of a relapse.  Once released, David takes the piano back up, and finds he hasn't missed a beat, wowing the locals at a local bar with his unbelievable classical skills. 

Directed and written in terrific fashion by Scott Hicks (No Reservations, The Lucky Ones), Shine provides an inspirational tale delivering the message that even when all hope seems lost, the human spirit can rise once again, if one is willing to try.  Beautiful music fills the film, making this a pleasant experience even without the uplifting storyline.  Geoffrey Rush won the Oscar for his memorable performance as David in his older years, with nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mueller-Stahl, Holy Matrimony), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Music and Best Editing, all of which are richly deserved. 

I should point out that, although Rush's performance and the lovely music are quite captivating, this isn't as moving or inspirational tale in and of itself, and although Helgott's playing is prodigious, without the fact that he is a talented fellow, this isn't unlike the story of many who have suffered a nervous breakdown. 

That said, as a character study of an emotionally troubled musician, it does draw the fine line between genius and madness well, and in this case, blurring it.  Hicks and Rush are the ones who shine in this production, making this essential viewing for all those who love classical music and well-crafted dramas with heart.

Qwipster's rating:

2001 Vince Leo