Directed by: Miloš Forman
Written by: Pete Shaffer
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice
Competition brings out the best and worst in others. In the sports world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi push each other to get better and outdo the other. These relationships can be cordial, but at times they can get very dangerous. Amadeus loosely tells the tale of the rise and fall of the legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the very jealous rival Antonio Salieri.
After working hard to become a respected composer, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) must now contend with an upcoming musical genius named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). This young man possesses all of the natural talents Salieri never had, therefore causing him to be friendly to Mozart but quietly plot his demise.
Never did I think that a film about two dueling composers could be as thrilling, comedic, and sensational as Amadeus. A film and story that takes a biopic idea and alters it to create a brilliant piece of filmmaking and does so through every element firing on all cylinders. The story gets told to a priest and the audience from the mouth of an aging Salieri recounting his experience as a composer for the Emperor Joseph II of Austria (Jeffrey Jones) and when Mozart arrived on the scene. A story filled with inconsistencies and a biased point of view, as it quickly becomes apparent that Salieri is an unreliable narrator. It adds to the comedy of the story but also asks the audience to not take everything so seriously. Salieri viewed Mozart as a childish and immature boy and the way Tom Hulce portrays the character probably doesn’t accurately show Mozart’s actual behavior. It does, however, make it incredibly entertaining.
F. Murray Abraham puts in an incredible performance as Salieri in the way he conveys the insecurity and pride of a man on the verge of being usurped. While once garnering all of the attention for the operas he would compose for the emperor, he must contend with Mozart, who has more natural artistic talent. It puts him in a place of knowing he cannot outduel him, but he can use his connections to tear down Mozart and prevent him from realizing his full potential. Some of his plans work but Mozart’s brilliance breaks through on more than one occasion beyond Salieri’s control. It pairs well with Tom Hulce’s portrayal of the famous conductor. In Amadeus, Mozart has this completely hilarious little laugh that infiltrates the rest of the film in an unforgettable way. He knows he has some talent, but cannot fathom the potential of his work, unlike Salieri. Mozart seems quite clueless about the machinations happening around him and how Salieri poses as a friend and mentor, while also trying to tear him down.
The relationship between the two men makes this film the masterpiece it has become. It represents such a complex and complicated friendship because of how each of them views the other. Mozart sees Salieri as someone looking out for his best interests, as he discourages the young composer from taking on certain roles. His naivete makes him so easy to root for because he creates music because of his greatness, not because he wants to supersede Salieri in the national ranking. He takes everything in stride while Salieri has this begrudging respect for the young man. Salieri has complex feelings towards Mozart and his hatred and adoration ebbs and flows throughout the runtime of the film. It all culminates in one of the final scenes when Salieri assists Mozart in completing a song. The back and forth between F. Murray Abraham, and Tom Hulce put together a collaboration for the ages where they could display such raw emotion with one another and created a scene so intense that it puts the audience right in that moment. It has a visceral feeling that shows two men coming together to create something brilliant. In the creation of that piece, any rivalry that might have existed washes away because something special happens in creating music that transcends both of them. It’s a brilliantly executed scene that feels composed and visceral with the passion and brilliance they both exude culminating in a beautiful work of art.
Amadeus marks one of many gems in the filmography of Miloš Forman, who dazzled audiences with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and he creates something special again. With this film having a long runtime, the pacing feels incredibly quick. Even with taking breaks to cut back to older Salieri recounting the story, the film moves efficiently. Each of the moments and interactions between the characters has a purpose and pushes the story along. With all of the costume and music work, everything looks incredibly grand on screen. With the story being about the two composers, the camera focuses on them as they conduct their operas and it shows the passion they exude in their positions. We barely experience what the audience members of the film see, but focus on these composers at the top of their craft. Forman crafts such a funny and ludicrous story that still informs on the machinations of the royal services in Austria.
As an established figure in the royal administration, Salieri shows the power bestowed upon him to take down Mozart. The lengths he goes to shows the different ways individuals in power manipulate others for their continued success. Whether it be through sabotage or beguiling Mozart, the methods mostly work. It shows that it takes a transcendent talent like Mozart to ever challenge someone like Salieri and it made me think of all of the composers, who never had a chance because of someone like Salieri refusing to share the spotlight. As with anything, it comes down to power and Saliero worked so hard to reach his status and refuses to let anyone have the chance to take away his opportunity.
By the end and the closing credits roll, I felt exhausted from the journey this film took me on. Through its dramatic and comedic moments, it creates a fully engaging experience through these two characters and their interactions. F. Murray Abraham’s performance stands out as the main highlight with everything else complementing to create such a riveting story that will never let you forget that famous laugh of Mozart.