1996

Film #370: Shine (1996)

Moving on to our next piano-related film in the form of Shine which like many Best Picture nominees before it is a biopic.


Shine is a very straightforward retelling of the life of pianist David Helfgott whose incredible talent was almost wasted due to his mental issues. Part of David’s issues were due to his strict upbringing by a father who always felt he knew best and was very sceptical about outside interference. The first example of this is when a music teacher spots David at a competition and offers to train him on the piano. A teenage David is later offered the chance to study music in America but the dream is snatched away by his father. Thanks to his friendship with a local novelist, David soon picks up the courage to confront his father and take a scholarship in London. It’s while in London that David’s mental state starts to deteriorate as he attempts to learn a difficult piece of music for an upcoming competition. Although David wins the competition the practise drives him insane forcing him into an institution. Shunned by his father, David spends years in an asylum before being rescued by a volunteer who recognises his talents. But she eventually abandons him and leaves him in a hotel where his destructive tendencies appear once again. It’s only through his friendship with a restaurant owner, who lets David play the piano there, does he start to re-join society. David even finds love and makes a comeback at the end of the film.

Interestingly Shine met with controversy over two of the film’s main plot points. The first was David’s mother’s claims that her husband was never abusive towards his children. Shine’s director Scott Hicks denies these allegations claiming that he’d had contact with David’s siblings who corroborate the film’s version of events. Secondly there have been claims that David’s comeback performances weren’t as brilliant as the film was suggest and that he definitely lost some of his early talent during his later years. Even after learning about these issues, neither really bothered me although I did have other reservations about Shine. Coming into the film, the only thing I really knew about it was the fact that Geoffrey Rush won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Shine. Because of this I had high expectations about Rush’s turn in the film and I’m sad to say they weren’t met. Part of the reason for this is that Rush only plays David in the latter stages of Shine and the character is first portrayed by Alex Rafalowicz and then by Noah Taylor. Rush’s performance put me in mind of Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal in Rain Man as both played characters who have mental health problems. Just like Hoffman, I felt that Rush overdid that aspect of his character a little bit and his performance was a little over-the-top. It did almost seem as if the Academy had honoured the three actors playing the character but given the award to Rush who started and finished the film as David. In fact I personally preferred Taylor’s interpretation of the character as a teenager and felt he particularly excelled in showcasing David’s descent into madness. Armin Mueller-Stahl was similarly strong as David’s overbearing father whilst the scenes depicting David’s piano playing were well-shot and choreographed. Ultimately, I was a little disappointed with the film as a whole as it petered out towards the end. While individual elements of it should be applauded, Shine really wasn’t as excellent as I thought it would be and I think that’s a real shame.

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