A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Wandering in the rain, the man looks like one of the walking wounded. His talk is obsessive chatter, looping back on itself, seizing on words and finding nonsense associations for them. He laughs a lot and seems desperately affable. When he sits down at a piano in a crowded restaurant, he looks like trouble, until he starts to play. His music floods out like a cry of anguish and hope.
This is the central image in Scott Hicks' “Shine,” based on the true story of an Australian pianist who was an international prodigy, suffered a breakdown and has gradually been able to piece himself back together. The musician's name is David Helfgott. His life story is not exactly as it is shown here, but close enough, I gather, for us to marvel at the way the human spirit can try to heal itself.
The movie circles in time, using three actors to play Helfgott. Alex Rafalowicz is young David, encouraged to excel at music and chess by a domineering father who slams the chessboard and shouts, “You must always win!” He is savage when his son places second in a national competition. Noah Taylor, so good in “Flirting,” plays the adolescent David, who blossoms at the piano, but is forbidden by his father to accept a scholarship offered by violin great Isaac Stern. Geoffrey Rush plays David as an adult who goes mad and then slowly heals with the help of an understanding woman.
But it is all so much more complicated than this makes it sound. We should begin with David's father, Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust but lost most of his family. Now resettled in Australia, he places family above everything; refusing to let David study at the Royal College of Music in London, he screams, “You will destroy your family!” Peter is capable of violence but also tenderness and love; his family is in the grip of his tyranny, and it is little wonder that David comes unglued, torn between his father's demands that he be perfect at the piano, and his refusal to let him follow his musical career where it will lead.