×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Devil’s Violinist’

David Garrett's musical gifts far outstrip his acting chops in Bernard Rose's creaky 19th-century melodrama.

With:
David Garrett, Jared Harris, Christian McKay, Joely Richardson, Andrea Deck, Veronica Ferres, Helmut Berger, Olivia d’Abo. (English, French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2401715/

David Garrett’s musicianship is the sole virtuosic element of “The Devil’s Violinist,” a creaky drama in which the world-renowned German violinist assumes the role of real-life 19th-century Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini. Written and directed by Bernard Rose, who found success 21 years ago with his Beethoven-centric “Immortal Beloved,” a true story that was similarly given the fictionalized treatment, the film is proof of both Garrett’s titanic skill at putting bow to string, and his decidedly less accomplished gifts as an actor. Providing a performance that’s so wooden and unconvincing that his director habitually cuts away from his face during dialogue — the better to mask the awkwardness of his line deliveries — Garrett proves a washout in this formulaic period piece, whose minimal commercial prospects are unlikely to extend beyond the star’s most rabid fans.

Rose opens his tale with a cursory prologue scene in which a young Paganini is smacked by his father for writing and playing an inventive composition, though the subsequent story makes only passing reference to daddy issues as a cause of the violinist’s problems. Rather, as embodied by the long-haired Garrett as a morose brooder in dark overcoats and sunglasses, Paganini comes off as a proto-grunge rocker bitter over his lack of popularity. The mockery he receives at early shows amplifies his consuming despair, thus leaving him an ideal target for the mysterious Count Urbani (Jared Harris), who appears at the maestro’s door and promises him the fame and fortune he craves, so long as he agrees to sign a contract that promises Urbani unspecified domain over Paganini in both this life and the next.

Decked out with a cane, a black-and-red cape, and a pronged goatee, Urbani is instantly recognizable as the devil, and the Faustian bargain he strikes with Paganini nets the violinist instant stardom, even as the artist becomes consumed by addictions to drugs and gambling. Rose dramatizes his action by weighting his action’s focus away from Garrett’s blank-faced pouting and toward his other stars, who compensate by dispensing every expression and line reading with maximum hamminess. That includes not only the scenery-chewing Harris, but also Joely Richardson as a corrupt reporter with a head of exploding red curls, and Christian McKay as John Watson, a frazzled British promoter who succeeds in luring the in-disrepair Paganini to London for a series of shows that Watson hopes will alleviate his family’s severe financial troubles.

That development at least allows “The Devil’s Violinist” to properly showcase its headliners’ musical genius, particularly during a sold-out concert in which Paganini, arriving late and then wowing a crowd filled with screaming and fainting girls, blasts his way through intricate violin pieces with the type of shredding-showman flair that would make Eddie Van Halen proud. Yet as Paganini begins a romance with Watson’s daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck), whose singing aspirations he encourages even as Urbani attempts to sabotage their union, the film resorts to hackneyed melodramatic scenarios that merely further highlight Garrett’s affected emoting.

Less stilted is Rose’s direction, which boasts a graceful fluidity that’s sorely lacking from his cast’s alternately under- and over-cooked turns. While his handheld cinematography serves as an occasionally clumsy means of heightening intimacy and immediacy, and his exterior shots of old-world London and New York are sabotaged by cheesy CG-enhanced matte-painting backgrounds, Rose’s stewardship is generally assured. His writing, however, is considerably less adept, resulting in one on-the-nose verbal exchange after another, and a narrative that eventually finds itself devolving into a morass of hastily sketched cliches.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Devil's Violinist'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., Jan. 26, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 122 MIN.

Production: (Germany-Italy) A Freestyle Releasing (in U.S.) release of a Summerstorm Entertainment production in co-production with Dor Film and Construction Film and Bayerischer Rundfunk Arte in association with ORF (Film/Fernsehabkommen), Bavaria Film Partners, Bahr Prod., Filmconfect, Sky, and Film House Germany. Produced by Rosilyn Heller, Gabriela Bacher, Danny Krausz, Christian Angermayer. Executive producers, David Garrett, Dominic Berger, Craig Blake-Jones, Markus R. Vogelbacher, Marc Hansell, Michael Scheel. Co-producers, Veronica Ferres.

Crew: Directed, written by Bernard Rose. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Rose; editor, Britta Nahler; music, David Garrett, Franck Van Der Heijden; music supervisor, Andreas Kukelka; production designer, Christoph Kanter; art director, Christine Caspari; set decorator, Johann Wagner; costume designer, Birgit Hutter; sound (Dolby Digital), Walter Fiklocki; supervising sound editor, Nigel Holland; re-recording mixers, Michael Kranz; visual effects, ScanlineVFX; visual effects supervisor, Sacha Bertram; stunt coordinator Austria, Erwin Reichel; stunt coordinator Germany, Torsten Jerabek; line producer Austria, Manfred Fritsch; associate producer, Volker Glaser, Sascha Magsamen, Stephan Hornung, Alexander Schütz, Nick Hamson, Sarah Weatherstone, Klemens Hallmann, Alan Howard, Ben Melkman, Pierre Lorinet, Jean-Pierre Valentini, Yasin Sebastian Qureshi, M.H. Dastmaltchi, Ricky Sans, Joseph Sanberg, Nasser Ahmad; second assistant directors, Tristan Hume, Irene Kullmer; second unit director, Joe Geary; second assistant camera, Natascha Reichert; casting, John Hubbard, Ros Hubbard.

With: David Garrett, Jared Harris, Christian McKay, Joely Richardson, Andrea Deck, Veronica Ferres, Helmut Berger, Olivia d’Abo. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content