Almost 100 years before Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in a swamp-moss covered cemetery deep in Mississippi, there was another musician standing at the crossroads, his name was Niccolò Paganini….mewhhhaaa!
‘The Devil’s Violinist’ is the stylized, fictionalized account of Paganini (David Garrett, world class musician) and his string box. It starts with him as a boy, learning the instrument under the heavy hand of his father. We next see him making his way as a filler act for some type of Vaudevillian type show. Despite his over abundance of talent, the audience is more amused with his farmer tunes than his more serious work….all expect one patron, Urbani (Jared Harris).
Urbani is a shadowy figure, deep voice. With the promise to serve Paganini in this life if Paganini in turn serves promises to serve Urbani in the next; he effectively becomes his manager, care taker, and confidante.
From this point, the usual musical montage takes place; concerts, booze, drugs, money woes, and ladies. Paganini excels at all of them.
Facing bankruptcy and boredom, Paganini, at Urbani’s persistence, embarks on comeback series of concerts in London. This where the majority of the film takes place.
Paganini arrives to hype and protest. He and Urbani are forced to stay with the concert promoter for their stay in jolly ‘ole England. Spending all his money to ensure the concert happens, the concert promoter has his daughter pretend to be a maid in his house. Sparks fly between her and Paganini.
The film becomes very predicable at this point. My mind was just unearthing all these other films in this historical musical genre that are far more entertaining.
Is Urbani devil or man or something in between? We’re never sure, but Harris’ the most convincing performance in this film. You’re immediately drawn to him. The wild look in his eye, the deep, seedy voice. He’s really having fun here.
Joely Richardson performance as a reporter is admirable, but her character is one dimensional and lacks screen time.
Musically it’s excellent. Garrett is a tremendous talent on the violin, sadly he’s lacking in the acting department. Because of his lack of depth, the story can only go so far. But the scenes where he’s on stage, tackling Paganini’s notes, it’s quite something.
Director Bernard Rose doesn’t break any new ground here. I think budget might have an issue here, the sets are small, his camera can’t explore. CGI’ed London looks cheap. Rose (Candyman) is talented, “Immortal Beloved” is far superior. Hopefully his next outing ‘Frankenstein’, his return to horror will have more favorable results.
‘The Devil’s Violinist’ isn’t a terrible film, it’s just a very captivity film save for Harris and Garrett’s musically performances. For a tale, dark and cloaked in mystery, like Paganini’s it’s a shame. The majority of the fault lies with Garrett, his musical talent may be world class, but his acting is far from it. A film like this will only go as far as it’s lead…sadly, this is another case of don’t quit you’re day job.
That being said if you’re a fan of Garrett’s you’ll probably watch this anyways…
The Devil’s Violinist is currently available on VOD.
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Directed by: Bernard Rose
Starring: David Garrett, Jared Harris, Christian McKay, Joely Richardson & Veronica Ferres