I’m really feeling the pressure of writing this review. My dad (who was a challenge assistant along with my little sister and step mum) loves Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and loves this film, and bought me the DVD. On the other hand, some of my musically gifted friends decidedly despise Mozart. Luckily, I know nothing about music, theory or otherwise, so I’m going to focus on the cinematic side of things. My opinion on the film in no way reflects my opinion on the famous composer’s life work, as I have none.
Let’s start with the plot. A young Catholic priest visits the elderly and decrepit Antonio Salieri in the mental institution which has becomes his home. The priest asks the former composer to confess his sins, so he tells his story with relish, but he is far from repentant. Salieri held an enviable place in the Emperor’s court when the young, arrogant and immoral Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart appears on the scene and categorically steals Salieri’s thunder. Mozart's music is excitingly new, though has perhaps 'too many notes'. Cue famous line: ‘From now on we are enemies’. This is in fact Salieri’s renunciation of his Christianity, swearing to destroy Mozart, who he believes to be God’s musical prophet. I won’t spoil the rest; it’s rather dramatic.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the story-within-a-story device, unless there’s a particular need for it. Seeing the feeble, aged Salieri does create an anticipation of his fall, but this isn’t important enough to hold up the main story. Instead, this unnecessary delay results in an underwhelming opening few minutes and a frustrating jarring of the plot as we periodically return to the composer/priest conversation. Other than this, director Miloš Forman and his team can’t be reprimanded. The main aspects to appreciate are the acting, the costumes and the incredible settings. Some of the scenes are jaw-droppingly good; Amadeus certainly deserved it’s eight Academy Awards.
The impressive performances of stars F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart) attest to this movie’s cinematic excellence. Emotion is the primary driving force here as pride, ambition and envy blur the boundaries of sanity. Abraham’s Salieri is dark and brooding, his jealousy overriding his principles and undermining his qualities. His base emotions transcend cultural barriers. Hulce’s Mozart is annoying, impudent, idiotic and effective. Even in his breakdown the audience cannot sympathise with him; that inane and childish laughter was just too infuriating. Still, Hulce’s performance is nothing short of powerful. My one reservation is over the American accents of many of the actors, including Hulce. It was Forman’s choice to cast mainly American actors, presumably to appeal more to American audiences, but the accent does grate occasionally. I came to the conclusion, however, that I’d prefer American accents to fake European ones, which would inevitably be embarrassingly bad and could have potentially ruined the movie.
I think I’ve more or less kept myself out of the Mozart is God/ crap argument. As it is, this is a good film, cinematically speaking. Whether it’s watchable without a prior interest is entirely down to personal taste.
Dad's summary: Love the film, perhaps just too many notes.