The Devil’s Violinist
dir-scr Bernard Rose
prd Christian Angermayer, Gabriela Bacher, Rosilyn Heller, Danny Krausz
with David Garrett, Jared Harris, Christian McKay, Andrea Deck, Joely Richardson, Veronica Ferres, Helmut Berger, Olivia d'Abo, Andrew Tiernan, Elizabeth Kinnear, Ania Sowinski, Makhare Alexander Ninidze
release US 30.Jan.15
14/Germany 2h02
The Devil's Violinist
Private lessons: Garrett and Deck

harris mcckay richardson
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Devil's Violinist Even with an under-developed central character, this moody film cleverly plays with the myths surrounding 19th century violinist Niccolo Paganini to create a pacey and blackly comical gothic drama. Writer-director Rose is terrific at deploying veteran actors like Harris, McKay and Richardson, and newcomer Deck registers strongly. It's just a shame that real-life violin prodigy Garrett only shines when he's holding his violin.

In 1820s Vienna, violinist Niccolo (Garrett) is too gifted for audiences. Penniless because no one appreciates his skill, he turns to shady promoter Urbani (Harris), who promises him fame in exchange for his soul. Having heard of Niccolo's genius, musician John Watson (McKay) invites him to play at London's Royal Opera House, hoping that a sold-out concert series will restore his fortunes. Watson borrows against his own home to fund Niccolo's visit, annoying his mistress (Ferres) and asking his daughter Charlotte (Deck) to pose as chambermaid. Then the diva-like Niccolo immediately falls for her.

Director Rose tells this story in a loose style that finds sharp wit and intrigue in every encounter. London is a bustling, noisy city with streets packed with people clamouring for a piece of Niccolo, including fans, an aggressive journalist (Richardson) and a shouty protestor (D'Abo) angry about Niccolo's reputation for womanising and devil worshipping. Even the king is desperate to hear Niccolo play. Behind this, Urbani quietly guides each situation, including Niccolo's excesses.

Garrett has plenty of on-screen charisma, which blossoms in the musical sequences but is less effective in dramatic scenes. This leaves Niccolo feeling shallow and simplistic, essentially just a spoiled brat addicted to women, gambling and inebriation. Thankfully, the story's complexity builds as it goes along, and the characters around Niccolo are fascinating. Harris is superb in his towering hat and devilish accent, while McKay is lively as the fast-talking, hapless Watson, Richardson has a lot of fun as a blowsy hack willing to do anything for a scoop, and Deck walks off with every scene, adding real steeliness to Charlotte's inner yearning.

Using handheld cameras, jarring editing and fiery music, the film is packed with goosebump-inducing scenes, such as an impromptu pub performance or a stunning Covent Garden concert. Everything is interwoven with layers of mystery, mistrust, romance, danger, always ready to break loose into delicious chaos. It's a clever approach, blending true events with mythology, all while saying something pointed about the nature of celebrity, critics, show business and raw talent.

cert 15 themes, sexuality, violence 28.Jan.15

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall