Based on the life and times of virtuoso pianist David Helfgott, Shine begins with a seemingly schizophrenic man amusing the staff of a restaurant with his bizarre ramblings.
In flashbacks it is revealed the man is David Helfgott, a child prodigy pianist raised by his strict Polish Jewish father Peter (Armin Mueller Stahl) – a survivor of the Holocaust – in the suburbs of Melbourne. As David grows older, he seeks independence from his father who has forbid David from ever leaving the family, and despite the constant abuse and threats of disownment, David finds the courage to leave, joining the Royal College of Music in London who have offered him a full scholarship.
In London he is taken under the wing of Professor Cecil Parks (John Gielgud) who has found glimpses of genius in David. When he advances to the finals of the schools prestigious Concerto trials, David asks Professor Parks to teach him how to play Rachmaninov’s infamous Piano Concerto No.3, perhaps the hardest piece of music there is to play. The Professor agrees, guiding David through the theories and mechanics of the piece. Yet the performance takes everything out of David, shattering his already fragile state.
As David grows older, he is diagnosed as suffering from a schizoaffective disorder, living a lonely existence in a mental institution where he has been ordered to stay away from the piano. Cut back to the restaurant where David surprises all the customers by playing on the restaurant piano, earning notoriety from the local press as a blast from the past. With his life back on track David continues to plays music with a new found vigour and also finds love with astrologist Gillian (Lynn Redgrave.)
Director Scott Hick’s has done a great job bringing Helfgott’s story to life. The power of Shine comes from the actors who portray Helfgott, especially Geoffrey Rush and Noah Taylor.
Helfgott is shown in three stages; as a child he is portrayed by Alex Rafalowicz; Noah Taylor gives a very good, understated performance as Helfgott during his more interesting period of adolescence; and then there is Geoffrey Rush, whose performance earned him numerous awards, critical praise and launched his acting career. He portrays Helfgott’s ticks and mannerisms without going overboard and in doing so delivers an engrossing and heartbreaking performance.
Armin Mueller Stahl is also great as David’s domineering father, who has passed his dreams onto his son robbing him of his childhood.
Shine will forever be one of my favourite Australian films of the 1990’s due to the fact that it is not some quirky outback fantasy featuring men dressed in drag or some other eccentric lead character with a fetish for disco (seriously, what is it with Aussies and Abba?)
No, with this movie there is no need for shock tactics as the three most basic movie staples - script, direction and acting - are all terrifically displayed creating a captivating account of an incredibly complex life.