Shine (1996) Poster


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Powerful film
blanche-23 April 2009
"Shine" purports to tell the story of David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush, who plays the adult Helfgott), a promising pianist who overcame mental illness, with the help of his wife, and returned to performing.

The 1996 film is actually a fictionalized version of Helfgott's life - but even had it not been based on a true story, it remains a powerful, intriguing film.

David is the child of German émigrés who now live in Australia. His father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is a self-taught pianist who teaches David his same love of piano and classical music. There is love there, but as portrayed in the movie, Peter is a rigid man who gives his son mixed signals. He drives his son to succeed as a pianist, teaching him that winning is everything, and yet, when David has opportunities that would take him away from the family, Peter won't permit it. The reason for this is that Peter and his wife lost relatives in the Holocaust. Peter is also given to physical abuse toward David when he loses his temper.

David finally gets away from him and attends the Royal Conservatory in London, where, with the help of his teacher (John Gielgud), he wins an important competition but then suffers a severe nervous breakdown. The rest of the movie deals with the road back, which leads him home to Australia and to his wife, Gillian. Gillian is actually his second wife, though the first marriage isn't mentioned in the film.

The dominant performances belong to Rush and Mueller-Stahl. Rush does a brilliant job of showing us the likable but stuttering David who speaks rapidly and repetitively, expressing himself through music. Mueller-Stahl as the tortured Peter is fabulous, a man who is both monstrous and pitiable. In a small role, John Gielgud of course makes a fine impression as an elderly teacher, a wonderful pianist himself, who believes in David's talent.

The best scene is David playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3 - Helfgott's own recording of the piece is used - and the aftermath. What I missed in this film is music - there was a lot of talk about David's promise, but until the Rachmaninoff not much playing.

Helfgott's work today has been deeply criticized for being - well, lousy. A review in The New York Times of one of his concerts is horrible. The reviewer, however, mentions that Helfgott occasionally showed vestiges of excellent technique. I think it's safe to assume that his playing nowadays is more erratic than it was in his earlier years. There are several examples of Helfgott's playing in the movie: "La Campanella," "Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 In C Sharp Minor," "Flight of the Bumble Bee," Rachmaninoff's "Prelude In C Sharp Minor, Opus 3, No. 2," the previously mentioned Rachmaninoff 3, and Liszt's "Sospiro," and it is all quite stunning. Rush does the fingerings himself. One of the comments also claims that Helfgott's wife has Helfgott perform on no medication so that he'll seem crazy - it's common for performers on medication for mental problems to have to cycle off of it before performing. I don't think the commenter has any idea what Helfgot is like on his medication - certainly in the film, he acts strangely.

"Shine" is highly recommended for its fantastic performances, beautiful music, and its inspiring story.
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Wonderful little story that is interesting for the majority but heartbreaking at times
bob the moo28 January 2004
David is a stuttering, rambling man having suffer a complete breakdown as a young man. However when he was a child his skills on the piano were unmatched. Driven by his father, opportunities open up in front of him to go abroad to learn, but his father denies him the chance. He leaves for London where he drives himself to the point of exhaustion before coming back home to find his father has disowned him.

It took me years to finally watch this film. I was still in Northern Ireland when it came out in the cinema and such films were not permitted to cross our borders, lest they keep the latest action movies from our 1 or 2 screen cinemas! So away from the hype and the Oscar hoopla I sat to watch this film and found myself easily taken in by it. The story is the true story of David Helfgott who was a boy genius before his breakdown. The film starts with him as an adult then jumps back to see him as a child. This approach works well to allow us to see the `end result' as it were, before we see what would be considered the causation factors. These factors are a little heart breaking to watch but they are very well delivered. As an adult, David is comic, warming and tragic. The pain in his life is brought out very well.

A great deal of the praise for this must lie with the wonderful cast. Rush got his Oscar of course and I'll leave it to the users on the message boards to argue over whether or not you can be the lead actor with screen time of less than half the film! He is great, walking a difficult line with a `disabled' character but managing not to just make it a caricature at any point. David as a child is very well played by Rafalowicz and does more of the development work than Rush and hence gets less credit than he deserves for making us care for the adult David. Mueller-Stahl is as good as he can be and gives a great performance, the only downside being that he doesn't age a single day between the adult and child sections of the story - surely some makeup could have been used?

Overall this is a very enjoyable human story that is driven by several really strong performances in key roles. The story keeps it's tone light but yet still manages to be dramatic and, in some scenes far too touching to avoid being slightly moved. The music is beautiful when it is called on to be and dramatic at other times - the director does very well to make the intense music translate into intense scenes in the film. Overall a simple story of a man but one that is interesting and a lot more moving that I expected it to be.
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A stunning film
ladylynch4 August 2000
This movie is definitely in my top five favorite movies of all time. It is unbelievably brilliant. Geoffrey Rush, dare I say, is perhaps the greatest actor of modern times. His performance alone is worth watching, let alone the outstanding supporting cast! Definitely not in typical Hollywood fashion, the movie is a truly great indie film. A must see for music lovers and indie film lovers alike.
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Intense, Well-Acted & Photographed Movie
ccthemovieman-17 August 2006
This was a very interesting movie and pleasant surprise, although sometimes that theme of the obsessive parent driving a kid crazy gets overworked. Nonetheless, it's a very well-made movie.

Geoffrey Rush is fascinating in the lead role as "David Helfgott." However, I would give equal kudos to Noah Taylor, who played Helfgott as a teenager, and to Armin Mueller-Stahl, who was Helfgott's father. They were just as impressive as Rush.

This is a supposedly true-life story of child prodigy piano player from Australia. As you can imagine, the music in here is excellent. Even better is the cinematography. Wow, this looks and sounds fantastic on DVD.

Although not always pleasant to watch, the story is riveting; hard to put down once you've started watching. The ending turned me off a bit with the overt plug for astrology, but is a happy one for all parties and at least leaves the viewer feeling satisfied.

In all, a very intense, beautifully-photographed biography.
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excellent film, good in all departments, seriously moving
peter.codner23 October 2000
This is a good film in every sense but will mean most to fathers with strong views :).

The story of a brilliant young pianist whose relationship with his father drives him to some sort of mental illness. Watchable, absorbing, brilliantly edited, deeply seriously moving, one of the rare films that pays attention to incidental sound. Wonderful direction and acting. This is a seriously good film.
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One of the great biopics.
Boba_Fett113823 July 2008
"Shine" is one of the great movies of the '90's, that became an unexpected success in 1996 and was the movie that earned Geoffrey Rush his as of yet only Oscar win and got the movie 6 more Oscar nominations, including best director and best picture.

The movie shows how Australian born David Helfgott gets formed and influenced in his early life by his demanding and abusive father (wonderfuly played by Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is in strict control of the family. He asks a lot from the already very unstable David and influences ever step in his life, probably also to make up for his own shortcomings in life. He's an unpredictable character with two faces and you can really feel the fear he puts in the family and David in particular. Things go worse and worse mentally for David as he grows up and eventually goes to study in England at the Royal College of Music. He has a breakdown which for once and for all definitely labels him as a psychotic man. His personality could definitely been described as crazy.

He gets perfectly and beautifully portrayed by Geoffrey Rush, who truly deserved the Oscar he received for his role. But in fact he is only in the movie for perhaps halve the running time. For "Shine" uses lots of flashbacks about Helfgott's early life and as a young adult, when he is being played by different actors. One of those actors is the know very well known Noah Taylor, who also plays the part fine. Also really impressive is Armin Mueller-Stahl. He doesn't usually have very big parts in English spoken movies but in this movie he plays one of his bigger and more interesting roles. It's a true memorable performance from him and he also truly deserved his Oscar nomination for this movie. I keep thinking it's a great shame he got discovered so late by the big-money movie industry, since he is already close to 80 by now, which should mean that his biggest and greatest roles should already be behind him by now. But who knows, some actors just go on forever, till a very old age. Take for instance John Gielgud, who also stars in this movie. At the time he was already well over 90 years old and he would continue to play on in many more great and big productions, till his death in 2000. Some actors are just truly born as actors. It simply is in their blood and they can't stop playing.

Moments in Helfgott's life are never portrayed too long but also never too short. This means that the story always comes right to the point and doesn't dance around it. The movie becomes very effective because of this and on top of that gets presented with a good steady pace. It's a reason why this movie is really one of the better autobiographic movies ever made. It's a really great directed and told movie, from Scott Hicks.

But of course like every good biopic, the movie doesn't only presents facts and some things are altered, in order to enhance the movie and its story or characters. For instance right after this movie the real Helfgott became a true full God, while in all honesty David Helfgott is a great piano player but just not the genius one as portrayed in this movie. It's kind of like the piano man. The mysterious mute man who was found in Kent England in 2005. It was said he was a brilliant piano player, while in fact he just simply knew how to play a piano well but was by no means a great or professional player. Just like David Helfgott, it are just the unusual circumstances and character personalities that makes people say they are geniuses, rather than it's an objective reflection of their actual qualities. But like I said, this isn't anything unusual to do for a biopic, to play around a little with the facts and it certainly is no objection when it actually enhances the movie. "Shine" truly benefits from its approach and story.

I also enjoyed David Hirschfelder nice little musical score (also Oscar-nominated). Of course the movie also benefits from it's classical compositions that are being featured. It's of course a very musical movie, since it's about the life of a musician but you really don't need a classic musical lover to enjoy or to appreciate this movie though.

The movie ends quite abrupt and perhaps not satisfying enough but this is of course simply due to the fact that David Helfgot is still alive and active today. Who knows, perhaps they could had better waited for another 30 years to come up with a movie about his life, for who knows what more strange and beautiful moments his life shall know.

Perhaps it's not the most stylish or greatest made movie but the combination of the interesting unique story, pace and main character (and of course Geoffrey Rush his performance of him) are what makes this movie such a basically flawless (you simply just forgive the movie for its flaws and shortcomings while you're watching it) and captivating one to watch.

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What a difference a 2nd viewing makes
XRANDY17 August 2001
I don't now why but when I first viewed this a few years back I did not care for it, but after watching it again I was very impressed. Maybe because I have grown more of an appreciation for classical music in that timeframe. I really don't understand how I could have missed the outstanding portrayal of the nuturing/stultifying father-son relationship, or the moving way that David can only express himself via the piano (notice how he speaks in virtually only apothems). This is a very great film.
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A Beautiful Mind
george.schmidt22 April 2003
SHINE (1996) **** Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Alex Rafalowicz, Armin Mueller Stahl, Lynn Redgrave, Sir John Gielgud, Googie Withers. Excellent Oscar nominated bio pic about acclaimed Australian pianist virtuoso David Helfgott (played equally brilliant by Rush {deservingly winning the Oscar as Best Actor} as an adult, Taylor as a young man and Rafalowicz as the child prodigy) who suffered mental anguish thru his art largely due to his overbearing father (Mueller Stahl, Best Supporting Actor nominee, in a demanding yet effective role) that led to his nervous breakdown that nearly destroyed him. Poignant and beautifully directed by newcomer Scott Hicks (Best Director nominee), the film never panders, preaches or offers any simple answers yet does depict mental illness earnestly with devestating clarity. Rush gives a bravura performance that deserves a standing ovation. Best sequence: the lead-in to Helfgott's crash as he attempts the monumental musical challenge, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3, or notoriously known as "The Rach 3".
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A little slight on the writing, but the acting and presentation is brilliant
FilmOtaku8 April 2004
When I originally saw this film in the mid-90's, I was absolutely devastated throughout the first forty-five minutes. So much so, I was pretty much uncontrollably weeping, much to the chagrin of the friend I went with. Time has softened the film a lot for me, but it still remains a powerful, tender and somewhat inspirational film about a piano prodigy who has led a pretty tragic life. Geoffrey Rush is unbelievable as the piano prodigy David Helfgott, and although the film is kind of sewn up a little quickly with the Vanessa Redgrave subplot (what about Helfgott made her so in love with him in a short period of time as to want to marry him?) it is a very well done film that I highly recommend to just about anyone, but especially musicians and music lovers.

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Plausible harmony
chaos-rampant1 January 2014
I did some reading after this driven by idle curiosity about the account. The real Helfgott didn't spend 15 years abandoned in a room with a piano, he didn't have to stand in the rain outside of a bar before they would let him in, he was pretty well known in the local scene as a pianist, his father was not a Holocaust survivor and David had been married before, father and son were never really estranged and David was present at his funeral.

But the 'objective' point-of-view that purports to explain him, or any of us at any time based on a few facts, is in the end no less hypocritical than any attempt to pass dramatization as 'the real story'. This matters. Someone can be present at a funeral without being truly present, and someone can feel forgotten and alone even when they're factually surrounded by people, estranged from a parent even when formally this was never so.

The film is at a simple emotional level where the attempt to conquer a maddening complexity (music, life) snaps the tethers of mind and in due time the reconfiguring of this damage into blossoming art. The moral is that we must keep trying and hope for the best, perhaps the worthiest lesson even if it appears slightly trite in the context of a more or less happy ending.

Still, why feel the need to invent all those things, knowing you are doing nothing short of that? When the inflicted violence on the son could be inferred by a more ambiguous tension instead of an outright beating.

Because, it seems, we can only choose to accept the lesson if at the center we find a good soul worthy of the saving. In other words, it is not the fact that he gives a great last recital that matters, but that he plays at all, not that a genius was salvaged because he might never have been that, but a human being. And this is what rankles so much Helfgott's piano critics who find him borderline incompetent in his playing - he is cheered on in concerts because he is the character from this film.

Ideally we would be able to discern all these points here instead of one harmony: the truly damaged but kind soul, the inability to place blame for that damage on any ogre father or Holocaust, and being able to somehow experience his music (the real Helfgott recorded for the film) as a trained ear would, fixated flourishes followed by distraction and incompetence according to critics, musically extending the damaged self.

For a more demanding film on the same subject of madness and transcendent musical genius see a little known film on a medieval composer called Death in Five Voices: all about the dissonance between different voices trying to harmonize a story and this carried in the music itself.
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Your father can be the worst doom you may meet in life
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU26 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
That's a marvelous but cruel film. Cruel to us in its beauty. Cruel to David in his complete estrangement from the world of noise lost that he is in his world of music. How can you be deaf to anything but music? It is possible, even if that sounds crazy, if that is a mental lunacy. The film tries to get us to two conclusions. The first one is that a father can be right but only for a short while. A son has to get away from his father as soon as he can otherwise he might be destroyed, utterly destroyed. In this case he is only mentally destroyed. He loses the sense of time and even space probably. Time does not exist any more, which is not serious in itself; many people can live without time. But duration, goes away too and that is unbearable. When life does not have any duration any more it does not exist any longer and it becomes so static that it may drown you completely. David Helfgott is saved from his predicament, first by one decision: to go away from his father when he gets a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Then by the phenomenal teacher he gets in London that accepts his decision to play Rachmaninoff in the Albert Hall, what his father wanted him to play when he was still a child. The connection of the father and his curse, the composer and his own predicament, and his emotion that he projects into the music, the place and his father's absence, all that does it: he loses the sound of the world, though not of the music, he loses the sense of duration and he falls into a complete vacuum, a mental hospital. He will be taken out of it by a simple lady who plays the piano for the patients, and then from this to that he will find a bar where he will be able to perform day after day and build a reputation that will attract people and one woman will accept to redeem him to life and marry him into a new career in the Albert Hall again for a second triumph, this time with no escape possible from the stage and success. And that is the second lesson. When you run away from your father and you lose him in the process, you lose any and all sense of reality that can only come back to you from inside and by accepting to bring that inside world of yours out. But you need some helping hands along the way, helping hands you have to negotiate and find all by yourself. And David did it. The son of the super poor surviving Jew exiled in Australia after the war was able to reach the sky and be some kind of an angel up there in the sunrise dancing in mid air as if he were on a trampoline. This optimism is refreshing because we all know too many people who did not end up like that. For one of these victims of life that manages to get through, so many will never even be able to raise their eyes and look at the stars.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
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Who Knew That Playing a Piano Could Be So Much Work?
tfrizzell25 June 2000
"Shine" is a pure joy to behold. Produced in Australia, it tells the true story of piano prodigy David Helfgott. Helfgott suffered a major nervous breakdown on the threshold of an imminently great career. The story shows him through a psychologically trying childhood, to his teenage years when he perfected his skills, to a stay in a mental asylum, and his subsequent return to stardom. Noah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush (in a well-deserved Oscar-winning turn) played Helfgott during his teenage and adult years. Armin Mueller-Stahl is also excellent as the abusive father (in an Oscar-nominated performance). However, the film stalls on several occasions. This is bad considering that the film is only 1 hour and 45 minutes long. Lynn Redgrave's role is terrible, she is totally wrong for this film. "Shine" is a prime example of a near miss. The film is very good in almost all aspects, but these problems keep "Shine" from being the masterpiece it should have been. 4 out of 5 stars.
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Quite superb...
Varun B.26 January 2009
SHINE is a compelling and touching story about music, talent, performance, pressure, and redemption. Scott Hicks' masterpiece is difficult to summarise in any traditional review or comment because it touches upon so many facets and ranges of human emotion. It is no surprise that this tale, based 'loosely' on the life of pianist David Helfgott (I say loosely because this is by no means a strict documentary, as many liberties are taken with the script) was nominated for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, and were it not for THE English PATIENT, would have walked away with the grand prize.

Geoffrey Rush as the adult Helfgott is amazing and his Best Lead Actor victory for his portrayal of this musical genius was well-deserved as the performance was simply breathtaking. A popular complaint is that Rush was only on screen for less than half the run-time of the film and as such should not have really won. The counterargument is such: it is the quality of the performance that counts, not the screen-time. Armin Muller-Stahl is equally impressive and deserved his nomination. My only gripe is that Noah Taylor was not given at least a nod for his portrayal of the younger Helfgott.

The writing, cinematography, and musical score are top-notch and transform this Motion Picture from good to great. 8/10. 3.5 stars (out of 4). Should enter my Top 250 at 206. Highly recommended.
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Well-intentioned, but it doesn't work...
moonspinner5519 February 2006
The true story of David Helfgott, a piano virtuoso who suffered a mental breakdown early in his life while under the thumb of his demanding father who, for the purposes of melodrama, is not just embittered and jealous but abusive as well. Well-acted, fairly well-made film has a jumbled narrative that moves along in fits and starts, with most of the real story left off-screen. Movies about domineering dads goes back to "Fear Strikes Out" and beyond, but the clichés have remained intact. This father-son relationship doesn't work because the filmmakers are too literal-minded about the material, which seems dramatically heightened anyway. There are moving moments, and Geoffrey Rush is worth watching in his Oscar-winning portrait as Helfgott, but the picture itself is rather cold. ** from ****
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But ... it's really bad!
Camilla197413 December 2005
I just can't believe there's nobody else who feels as I do about this movie. I'm not a film snob, and will try to see the good in most movies, but I just found this one hugely objectionable. It actually made me so angry, sitting watching it in the cinema, that I nearly became one of those people who makes derisive noises & spoils it for everyone else (managed to keep a lid on it though, just barely). It's so, SO intensely irritating! I have a feeling nobody here will agree but I need to express this. It's annoying because it has:

1)Lame, clichéd characterizations (not the lead, but supporting/minor characters, eg his family, particularly all the women in the family) 2)Patronizing depiction of mental illness (I don't mean to criticize Rush's acting here. It's more the combined effect of script/direction/production) 3)Incredibly heavy-handed, clichéd depiction of the father's issues resulting from surviving the Holocaust (ditto above comment; I didn't have a problem with the actual performance) 4)General oversimplification, hollowness and reliance on emotional manipulation to cover up a lack of insight

The above intruded so much on my consciousness that I just couldn't ignore them & let myself get caught up in the music or the story. I did try.

OK, I know ... you all hate me, and all the critics from all the papers disagreed too. I just had to get it out of my system. Sorry.
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Truly Captivating, everything i expected and more.
alexander_awsome24932 December 2008
I have aspirations t become an actor when i grow up, so i know about acting. This movie was simply captivating,Rush's performance was simply marvelous, it takes you to a journey in Helfgott's life. I fell in love with this movie cause it shows you family selfishness in a raw way, by using the character of Davids father,great acting by Stahl.

The directing was incredible,even that little detail when rush does the jumping in the hospital, which symbolizes the traumatized childhood of his character, and more importantly the look in rush eyes, were like an innocent traumatized child. The ending showed that Helfgott found out what kind of selfish man his dad was , and cared less when he found out he was dead.

Every movement in Rush is absolutely impeccable i thought he was really going through a mental problem, after this movie Rush became one of my inspirations along with Pacino,Penn, Brando, Depp, Day-Lewis and Nicholson. The movie should won the Oscar in every category: Best Movie, Best Direcor, etc.
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mveltkamp118 November 2005
This movie is thrilling and so emotional that i think you should be mentally and emotionally old enough to actually be able to understand the true meaning. To understand how someone goes through a mental illness is not for any 'sane' person to understand. Although the hard work put into the movie does justify some aspects of it, the movie as a whole does not tell the truth. I think that the movie skips very important parts of the story such as the time David spent in the mental institute, and we do not get the understanding that he has moved from America to Austrlia. THis is what i believe watch it and see for your self!
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Not quite classic.
Warning: Spoilers
Potential spoilers are afoot.


"Shine" chronicles the life struggle of an Australian pianist named David Helfgott, whose exigent, abusive father drives him to the brink of insanity. From the earliest years of his life, David is taught that when something is attempted, one must succeed at it; his father teaches him how to play chess and piano at an early age, and castigates David whenever he doesn't excel at what he's doing. He often tells a story of how when he was a child, he bought a violin with his own money and his father broke it. Day in and day out, he demands that David repeat the following line: "I am a lucky boy." Father knows best, after all.

Throughout all of David's childhood he attempts to get him to play a particularly difficult piece of music, although David's instructor argues against it since such a release of emotion requires expertly handled manipulation of the piano, as well as the self. David, after winning countless tournaments, is eventually offered a scholarship to study in an American music institution, and it is his father's reluctance to let him go that sparks the rivalry that draws them apart. After being offered another scholarship to a university in England, David is ostracized from the family when he disobeys his father's command and runs away.

"Shine" is reminiscent of a 30-ton truck running full-speed into a brick wall. The wall definitely doesn't hold back the truck, but neither does the truck continue on its path unscathed.

"Shine" is also reminiscent of a Dodge Viper running full-speed into a brick wall; there's not much left after the wall has had its fun.

One could argue that the truck parallels the journey of David Helfgott's life. The Viper parallels the insipid turn of the narrative once that David finally plays the piece his father tried to get him to learn all his life. Both are a marvel to gaze at until the decisive point, but unlike the 30-ton truck, the narrative appears to be a little too self-conscious to be caught limping. In the span of ten minutes, David makes peace with his father, earns the love of a woman, and makes his appearance in the spotlight once again. What should have been the most poignant portion of the movie falls prey to either a trigger-happy editor or a lethargic, inebriated director.

It's maddening when a movie has the potential to be a truly inspirational experience, but falls three steps short due to an ill-conceived execution. When a story seeks to chronicle the plight of the human spirit, one would think consistency to be of the utmost importance. The consistency of a narrative, in a medium such as film, accounts for the consistency of emotion. Without the former, all one can ever hope to achieve is mediocrity.

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No, no, no. This is BAD!!!!!!
JCfan-318 June 1999
Come on, guys. Gimme a break. What the hell did you see in this film? It's just the old cliche ridden classical music film. The only great film of this kind is Inmortal Beloved. Amadeus, Farinelli and this are terrible!!! And, worst of all, this is a mix between those films and the unwatchable Rain Man, for the mentally ill character element, perversely put to manipulate the viewer emotionally. At least here we don't have Dustin Hoffman. The only reason to watch this film is Geoffrey Rush. His acting is great and saves this film from being the fiasco it would have been, and still is in some way. Score: 2 out of 10.
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Abuse does not cause schizophrenia--let's all repeat--Abuse does NOT . . .
christovaughan18 February 2005
This is a nice story, but it is very troubling how the movie suggests that David's mental state, which is obviously schizophrenia, is somehow cause by his father's abuse. Schizophrenia is an organic brain illness. No one know exactly what causes it, but it is not caused by parental abuse. It seems that nearly every summary of the movie states outright that David's father creates David's "nervous breakdown." This belief takes us right back to Freudian psychology of the 1950s, when the belief was that schizophrenia was a reaction to "refrigerator mothers." The movie "A Beautiful Mind" was more realistic in depicting how schizophrenia strikes seemingly out of nowhere and is a diabolically difficult disease to ameliorate in any way. It is a disservice to all of us to suggest otherwise. Again, it's enjoyable to be swept along in the story, but if you take away the premise about the cause and cure of Helfgott's illness, the movie feels a little hollow.
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Good, not great
sdogpdx3 June 2002
There were just too many problems in this film for me to rate it as great. Geoffrey Rush did a great job, as did the young actor who played the early Helfgott. The story was interesting, and the cinematography well done. Overall, it was a good film, but it had a few glaring issues I cannot overlook.

First, if we are to feel sympathy or understanding for Helfgott's condition, it would be nice to know exactly what it is. Is he schizophrenic? Not sure. I find the label of "madness" to be far too vague, and nearly cliché.

Second, as a little research on Helfgott confirms, the filmmakers were not accurate in many aspects of the story. According to his own family, Helfgott never broke down while playing the "Rach 3", nor was his father an abusive taskmaster.

Third, there were just too many confusing and/or vague moments throughout the film. There was a scene of David receiving electroconvulsive therapy, at one point, with absolutely no explanation of what was going on. His relationship with his father, once he left home, was confusing at best. Similarly, Gillian tried to help David write a letter to his old music professor, but we never heard any more about that, either. Loose ends and apparently superfluous scenes made the film sometimes hard to follow, and left me with an empty feeling at the end.

Lastly, I take issue with the implication that overbearing parents and intense mental and emotional labor can lead one to mental illness. Schizophrenia, in particular, is not something caused by your relationships or activities. It is organic. Things can't "drive you mad," in that sense. Certainly parents can cause mental and emotional damage, but if that was goal of the film, it should have been more clear.
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Problems at its core
bandw14 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is inspired by the life of David Helfgott. The facts of Helfgott's life that seem to be beyond dispute are that he was a gifted pianist as a child and suffered a mental breakdown as an adolescent that impaired him for life. In spite of his disorder (that landed him in a mental hospital where he was administered Electroconvulsive therapy) he has been able to perform, first in a wine bar and then on the concert stage; he has also made several recordings. Director Hicks admits that this is a partially fictionalized biography and there is dispute as to just how fictionalized it is. Helfgott's sister Margaret has published a book, "Out of Tune: David Helfgott and the Myth of Shine," that disputes much of what is in the movie, particularly the portrayal of Peter, the father. And if it is fictionalized, why use the names of real people?

Helfgott's story is indeed an interesting one, but pursuing "the real David Helfgott story" should not be a consideration when evaluating this movie.

The biggest problem I had was with the total disconnect between Helfgott's personality in the first half of the movie (before his breakdown) and the second half, many years later. There is little hint of Helfgott's having mental problems before he collapses, after his recital. I cannot believe that such a dramatic personality-changing emotional disorder can be precipitated by a single event, as implied. There had to be warning signs and I felt it was unfair to spring this on us simply for dramatic effect. The extreme transformation from a rather serious, likable, reserved youth to a completely different man/child who loves to hug people and babble incoherently I found unbelievable.

The nature of David's mental illness is never explored, and that left me at a loss in trying to understanding the man. Helfgott's troubled relationship with his father is implicated in his breakdown as is his intense preparation for a performance of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3. But, lots of people have troubled family dynamics and most every person who embarks on a professional career has moments of extreme stress and they don't come close to David's reaction as seen in this movie. I find the suggestion that strictly external events caused David's breakdown to be disservice to what is known about mental illnesses. Clearly there was a ticking time bomb in David's brain just waiting to be set off.

While studying the Rachmaninov at The Royal College of Music in London David's mentor Cecil Parkes makes the comments, "Performing's a risk, you know--no safety net. Make no mistake, David. It's dangerous. People get hurt." Also, Helfgott's father has made the comment that the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto is the hardest piece in the world, which is simply not true. The concerto is indeed a difficult one, but no more so than dozens of other classical pieces and it should be within the abilities of a prodigy in late adolescence. Parkes and Helfgott's father make the decision to perform the Rachmaninov Concerto out to be a life or death venture, that only a few who attempt it survive--this makes for dramatic tension at the expense of the truth.

David's father Peter is presented as having a controlling love for his son. Interspersed with some tenderness on Peter's part are episodes of his perpetrating mental and physical abuse. When David has the opportunity to study in America, Peter prohibits it. Later, when David announces he is going to London Peter tries to prevent it and when David says he is going anyway, Peter tells him that if he leaves he will never be allowed back in the house. Peter's behavior makes little sense--he wants his son to succeed in the worst way, but seems bent on preventing that from happening. When Peter tells his son that, "No one will love you like me," I would think David's response would be, "I certainly hope so."

There are a lot of little bothersome things. Like the first scene that has David, as an adult, showing up in the rain late at night at a wine bar that has just closed for the evening. Ignoring discouragement David keeps knocking until the proprietor comes to the door and she quickly adopts the attitude of, "Oh, come in, we love you." Hardly a believable reaction to a crazy person appearing at your door speaking in an incomprehensible staccato.

When, as a child, David is playing a part of the Rachmaninov Concerto from what he has heard on a recording his father sends him off to bed and, amazingly, then picks up a score for the concerto that just happens to be on the top of the piano. Wouldn't David have looked at that score if he were really interested in learning it?

Geoffrey Rush runs around trying his best to make the adult David out to be a mad, but lovable, genius. This is the type of flashy role that wins Oscars, and Rush did. For my money Noah Taylor, as the adolescent David, is the one who shines. John Gielgud, as David's London mentor, is delightful as usual. Armin Mueller-Stahl, as David's father, creates a believable, self-tormented character in his Oscar-nominated performance. Lynn Redgrave is fine as David's wife.

I came away feeling that this movie was disguising what could be a truly interesting story.
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A glittering turd.
Irishmonk17 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film--despite its Oscar winning performance and technical polish--is for the most part a load of steaming excrement that is morally and aesthetically bankrupt. Whether a film is straight fiction, biographical or a documentary it has to have a core of truth and authenticity. This film doesn't even attempt that: it's just cliché after cliché larded with cheap sentiment, over-simplification, and glaring inaccuracies, riddled with narrative gaps you could fly a plane through. At the end of the film I didn't feel like I knew the central character any better than I did at the beginning; indeed, no insights were given about the main characters current mental condition, or what led to his nervous breakdown. There was more psychological truth in Rocky III than this canard. It's a shame that David Helfgott's father got so tarnished in this depiction; the film's producers should have known better than to sully the reputation of a deceased man who cannot defend himself against the phony accusations presented here.

Biographies don't need to compromise the truth in order to be entertaining and win over audiences. Case in point: Jane Campion's superb film,"An Angel at My Table", another Aussie production about a mentally troubled artist--in this case, writer Dorothy Frame. It manages to be authentic, complex, revealing and yes, even inspirational, without glossing over or the uncomfortable truths of its difficult subject matter.
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Dragged Down By A Weak Second Half
sddavis6322 January 2009
Somewhat reminiscent (in the basic story, at least) of "A Beautiful Mind," "Shine" offers a take on the story of Australian pianist David Helfgott. I understand that there's debate on the accuracy of the film, both in terms of Helfgott's background and his piano playing skill. Knowing nothing of his background and little of the skills needed to play the piano, I'll choose to avoid the controversy and deal simply with the movie. It started off very strongly. The first half offered a powerful exploration of Helfgott's childhood, at the hands of a domineering father as well as a look at the early indications of both his abilities as a pianist and the first hints of mental illness. It was a little bit slow paced, but interesting nonetheless. Something happened, though, at the point at which David seemed to go truly insane after his Rachmaninoff recital. The movie itself seemed to lose its focus at that point, and it became what seemed to me to be a largely unconnected series of events offering a taste (but not much more) of Helfgott's later life in a rush, which was far less interesting than the first half. Geoffrey Rush was truly excellent as Helfgott, as was Alex Rafalowicz, who played Helfgott as a child. I was also impressed with Armin Mueller-Stahl's performance as Helfgott's father. The character of Gillian (played by Lynn Redgrave, who became Helfgott's wife) seemed to be introduced far too quickly, and I had no idea how they ended up suddenly married. Redgrave did well with the part, but there was little substance to the character. As far as I recall, there was also no mention of the fact that Helfgott had been previously married.

The comparatively weaker second half pulled this down a fair bit in my estimation. In the end, I'd say it was OK, but not much more than that. 6/10
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A Bit Foggy
jimmylee-118 July 2006
After reading the many user reviews, I think it's great that the movie has made more people appreciate Rachmaninoff's music. And I'm glad this movie made people appreciate how fragile the mental psyche can be. I had some challenges, though, getting past the basic premise of the movie.

It has been proved, medically, that a traumatic event, or series of traumatic events occurring close together, can trigger a build up of serotonin or other chemical that can cause (in a highly susceptible individual) what would have been called - in those days - a mental breakdown.

But the movie shows such ranging symptoms and treatments, it's difficult to understand exactly what happened. Maybe the symptoms changed from adolescence to adulthood? It was like night and day. I would have liked to have understood what happened better, and lacking that information, I found the inconsistent symptoms distracting.

I'm sure many will disagree, but I also have to say, many of the children born to WWII survivors and veterans grew up in what would be considered inappropriate or volatile households today. Counseling came in the form of a casserole in those days. The WWII survivors are the lost generation - growing up in an atmosphere of war and terrible fear - and often themselves just a bit mental after all they had been through.

As a result, with corporal punishment considered the norm, an overbearing (WWII veteran/survivor) parent was not unusual. What was unusual was how the child reacted.... if the child was predisposed to mental fragility and broke down.

I have no quibble with the acting (although I think Noah did the lion's share of the emotional scenes, while Geoffrey did the virtuoso scenes, so I'm not sure who deserved the Oscar more); all were excellent. The filming was lush, the music was quite good. I have gotten to the point where I just want to hear Sir John read the phone book and I'll gush adoringly. Lyn was awesome, Nicholas Bell was excellent, Armin was great.

If the script has just given a bit more detail, provided a bit better understanding, I might have been less distracted and more supportive of the character. It was difficult for me to enjoy the movie as a whole because I could not understand the character.
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