Amadeus (1984)

31 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Amadeus” is a film that gives a positive answer to the question “is a film about an artist as interesting as his or her work?” The answer is yes, as “Amadeus” is a historic-fiction period drama/portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and is also a high achievement in cinema history. This is one of those movies that, like most of the actual Mozart’s work, is just perfect. It’s a compelling story, a powerful drama, and a showcase of great talent.

“Amadeus” occurs through ten years of Mozart’s life, mostly spent in Vienna from the year 1781 to 1791. The film chronicles his successes and failings, but it covers more than just Mozart’s talent. It’s also an amazing portrait of creativity and envy. For you see, this film is not merely about Mozart and his work, but more of how envious the most miserable of colleagues in this craft can be to the point of trying to destroy him.

The envious one is Mozart’s rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) whom we first meet in the 1820s as an old man who attempts suicide while exclaiming that he killed Mozart. He is sent to an insane asylum where he gives his confession to a priest. As we see in flashback, Salieri looks back on his days as Court Composer for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) in Vienna. Mozart was Salieri’s idol, as he recognizes greatness in Mozart’s work, even when he was a young lad. Salieri himself is actually a mediocre composer, which he doesn’t realize and no one seems to point out because the Emperor himself is tone-deaf—he wouldn’t know a great music piece if he played it himself.

Salieri meets Mozart and is utterly shocked and dismayed when he realizes that Mozart is actually just an immature child stuck in a man’s body. He simply can’t believe that one of the greatest music creators in the world, if not the greatest, behaves wildly—chasing women, making inappropriate remarks, and having very little manners. But he truly is a genius and Salieri can’t deny it. However, Salieri is saddened and confused that God would display this great talent to this “creature,” as he calls him. As Mozart grows more and more famous and infamous, Salieri becomes more envious and wants nothing more than to plot Mozart’s downfall. But what always sets him back is the power of his music.

As you may have guessed, the most complex character in “Amadeus” is not Mozart, but Salieri. This is the one telling the story; this is the one who is envious the genius brought to this spoiled brat of a man; this is the one who is caught in a mixed bag of emotions; this is the one who has ignored all of the things that Mozart has enjoyed in life, just to be noticed for his own music, but alas he’s a second-rate composer. He even goes as far as pretending to be his late (disapproving) father’s ghost to work hard on the grandest opera the world has ever known, putting Mozart to a large amount of stress. And as Mozart is lying there, suffering and pretty much close to death, Mozart begs Salieri to help him finish the composition, while Salieri plans to steal it and claim it as his own.

That piece, by the way, is of course “Requiem,” and the scene is probably the most touching in the movie, because Mozart is willing to go all out with his creativity and genius, even on his deathbed. And a great touch added to it—as the piece is written, the actual music (imagined) is developed right along with it.

Mozart is an interesting portrayal. As I’ve said, he’s an immature child trapped in a man’s body. He can be loud and obnoxious, especially with his trademark braying laugh, as he could be considered to be trapped in a state of arrested adolescence. He’s mainly like a modern-day rock star—easing his way into this world and just having the time of his life. Sometimes, he’s nervous—such as when the Emperor orders for a piece to be shortened because the music has “too many notes,” and especially when his father, whom he’s devoted to, judges him. (Even when his father dies, Mozart is still haunted by him.) But sometimes Mozart can be unpleasant. There are moments when he’s either cruel to his wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) or just unfaithful to her, though he does love her, and there’s also a scene in which he flat-out mocks Salieri’s work without knowing he’s present.

Tom Hulce plays the complicated role of Mozart and does an excellent job at playing him like Salieri sees him, as thus how we see him. Sometimes he’s likeable, sometimes he’s rude and obnoxious, but when you get down to it, he is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

F. Murray Abraham is perfect as Salieri. He’s not a standard villain for Mozart; he’s a classic, tragic figure of envy. Though we wouldn’t prefer to stir through his sort of measures, we understand the pain he’s going through. And I also have to give him credit for playing both the young and old versions of the character—thanks to some great makeup work and equally great acting by Abraham, I never would have guessed this was F. Murray Abraham playing the older Salieri. But it is. Great work!

Is “Amadeus” completely historically accurate? Maybe not. But what should it matter when this much heart is put into the story and film? Maybe some parts were exaggerated; maybe other parts were stretched out. Either way, it’s known as “historic fiction,” and not to be one-hundred-percent accurate. It’s just a movie. And it’s an excellent one too.

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