Shine (1996) starring Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Alex Rafalowicz, Lynn Redgrave, Googie Withers, John Gielgud directed by Scott Hicks Movie Review

Shine (1996)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Geoffrey Rush in Shine (1996)

The David Helfgott Story

As a young boy in Australia David Helgfott (Alex Rafalowicz, Noah Taylor, Geoffrey Rush) is pushed by his father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to be the best piano player possible. His desire for David to be great goes beyond parental pride and at times borders on abuse as he drives him to succeed. But after winning a competition as a teenager he is offered a chance to study in America, something Peter blocks as having lost his family during the holocaust doesn't want to lose David. But as David gets even better he wins a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London which despite Peter objecting to David takes and is taught by Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud). But just as David gives a perfect public performance the pressure gets to him and he suffers a nervous breakdown ending up in a psychiatric hospital. Despite being able to eventually leave the hospital David is no longer able to perform publicly and after a rollercoaster few years comes to the attention of a woman called Gillian (Lynn Redgrave) when the night before he had walked in to a bar soaked and jabbering on incoherently only to return the next day to play piano and impresses everyone with his talent.

I refer to the years before 1998 as my mainstream years as it wasn't until 1998 that I started to expand my viewing to include foreign cinema as well as independent movies. As such there are a lot of movies which I chose not to watch before 1998 as I didn't think they would be my sort of thing and "Shine" was one of them. In truth I probably did the right thing by not watching "Shine" back in 1996 when it was released as I am pretty sure I would have struggled with it but I do wish I hadn't waited so long to watch it as it is a magnificent movie.

Noah Taylor in Shine (1996)

Now you can split "Shine" into three parts David's childhood with his domineering father, his breakdown as he is unable to cope and then the final part where he meets Gillian which I won't go in to on the off chance there are those who don't know David Helgfott's story. Now the first section concentrates on the relationship between David and his father Peter as we watch Peter pushing his son to be great yet at the same time not wanting him to leave the family. It gives us this conflicted and interesting character as Peter is domineering, wanting David to be a musician because Peter's own father wouldn't let him be but at the same time we see that the holocaust left a scar on Peter's life as he lost his loved ones and feared losing David and the rest of his children leading to violent outbursts. It is a well written first section as it establishes the Helgfott family quite brilliantly and David’s lost childhood.

What follows this is when David eventually leaves home, an act which brings his father's wrath down upon him and of course must have contributed to the pressure that he already felt. But we get to see how David was on the verge of greatness when years of pressure and expectation caused him to snap. It is incredibly touching, moving and inspirational what follows as we see David's struggles to cope over the years until that night he walks in to a restaurant in what too many must have seemed a state of intoxicated delirium with his excessive emotional gestures and rampant chattering.

The thing is that "Shine" does work partly because of the fascinating story but also because of a trio of performances. Having never seen the real David Helgfott I don't know how accurate the portrayals are but Geoffrey Rush brings to the screen a very full character, a believable musical genius lost in his own world. And what makes Rush's performance all the better is the work which Noah Taylor puts in to play the teenage David, giving him the mannerisms which Rush elaborates on. But there is also Armin Mueller-Stahl who delivers an equally fantastic performance a David's father Peter bringing the conflict to life which would in turn affect David.

What this all boils down to is that "Shine" is one of those movies which you often hear being praised especially for the performance of Geoffrey Rush. But it is more than one performance which makes it great and it is a combination of several performances, a powerful storyline and director Scott Hicks who keeps things ticking over so that those who are more use to mainstream movies won't find it laboured.