Directed by Milos Forman
Screenplay by Peter Shaffer
Starring: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones, Christine Ebersole, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Hulce) has grown from a child prodigy to a reckless musical genius. As he navigates the courts of Vienna, he encounters the competitive and frustrated Antonio Salieri (Abraham). Through Salieri’s eyes, we see the tumultuous personal life of Mozart, accented by his unlimited talent and potential.
This film was born from the 1979 stage play of the same name, written by Peter Shaffer (Equus). The film was directed by the incredibly talented Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). This film was an instant hit, earning eleven Oscar nominations and winning eight times. The wins include Best Picture and Best Director (Forman). The cast features a great number of talented stars starting with Tom Hulce (Animal House), F. Murray Abraham (Inside Llewyn Davis), and Elizabeth Berridge (Hidalgo). In addition the film features Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Christine Ebersole (The Wolf of Wall Street), Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral), and Roy Dotrice (The Cutting Edge).
The film also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Peter Shaffer took his own stage play and adapted it with great skill, turning it into an epic and wonderful film. As with most successful biographical films, this one finds a great starting place. Instead of working through all of Mozart’s life, the film highlights his childhood before diving into his adult years. While much of the film is based on history, there is a large amount of fiction used to fill in the missing pieces. Thanks to good writing, the fiction doesn’t overtake the facts of the story, and mainly serves to avoid major gaps in the story. The dialogue written for the film does a good job capturing the aristocratic world that Mozart lived on the fringe of. In addition, the characters are built so uniquely that it creates a rich world for the story to be told. Every person portrayed has so many unique characteristics, and also a varied number of flaws. All of this comes together with a powerful and emotional story that works from beginning to end.
Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham were both nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for their parts in this film. This award eventually went to Abraham, who give a powerful performance depicting the conflicted, complicated, and frustrated Antonio Salieri. Tom Hulce could have easily won this award for his work as well. He plays the neurotic and bizarre genius with great skill. Together, the two create a wonderful contrast whenever they share the screen together. The duplicitous nature of Abraham’s Salieri and the wild mood swings of Hulce’s Mozart are perfect for this story.
In addition to these two great actors, the film features great performances from Elizabeth Barridge, Jeffrey Jones, Christine Ebersole, Simon Callow, and Roy Dotrice. Each of these actors was able to hold their own alongside Hulce and Abraham. The story required each of them to bring out the flaws and unique characteristics of their roles in an almost over-dramatic style. In the end they were all able to do so. The end result is a movie that is wonderfully acted; taking full advantage of the excellent writing.
Visually, this film does so many wonderful things. The film’s production was done mainly on location in Prague, Kroměříž and Vienna. The set design earned the film an Oscar for Best Art Direction. In addition the film won Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup. Throughout the film, the director took full advantage of access to places like the Count Nostitz Theatre in Prague. This is the same theater where Mozart had debuted Don Giovanni in 1787. The constant acknowledgement of history really adds to the visuals. The camera work also does wonders in bringing this ear, two centuries prior, to life. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Editing, losing both awards to The Killing Fields.
The music for this film became one of the best-selling soundtracks in the history of film. It reached #56 on the Billboard Chart, making it one of the most popular classical albums ever. The score is made up almost entirely of pieces written by Mozart, and the bulk of it was recorded by the Academy of Saint Martin in the Field. Producer John Strauss later won a Grammy for his work on the music. In addition to the music, the sound for this film was also great. An Oscar was awarded to film for Best Sound.
This is a film filled with wonderful music, stunning visuals, and incredible acting. The story holds up nicely, and the movie hardly shows any age despite being almost thirty years old. If you’re a fan of biographical films, this is one that should be on the top of your list. This is on the level of films like The Last Emperor thanks to the wonderful visual storytelling. I would also recommend this to anyone who loves great drama and history. The blend of the two, supplemented with creative license, make this a classic. At close to three hours this does run long, but don’t let that discourage you. The film has so many good moments that the length is never an issue. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.