Though onscreen for less than half the film, Geoffrey Rush won the 1997 best actor Oscar for his portrayal of the adult David Helfgott, a real life pianist barely known outside of his native Australia.
As a child, the young Helfgott (Noah Taylor) suffered an overbearing, paradoxical father who could never be proud of his son until he was a renowned concert pianist, yet refused to allow him the tutoring to achieve it. This pressure strains David’s personal life – a promising young romance is quashed at its initial meeting by his father’s interruption – eventually causing David to develop mental illness, not helped by trying to learn a particularly tricky Rachmaninoff.
All the performances are exceptional, particularly Rush mumbling and stuttering at lightning speed, occasionally unintelligible, revelling in the small moments of joy, be they from the discovery of a vacant piano in a restaurant or trampolining wearing nothing but sunblock and a billowing overcoat. The great John Gielgud crops up as the encouraging, kindly, cravat wearing tutor David so rightly deserves, but the tale cannot escape the cliché of the tormented artist, becoming better at his craft the greater the trauma he endures. Also the ending is too uplifting and fairytale, regardless of whether it is based on fact or not.
Choose Life 5/10