Review: Amadeus (1984)

Director: Milos Forman
Screenwriter: Peter Shaffer
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice, Jeffrey Jones
Genres: Drama, Comedy, Musical
MPAA Rating: PG
Release Dates: 11/13/84 (Theatres), 9/24/02 (DVD), 5/18/15 (Streaming)
Runtime: 2 hours, 38 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Oscars: Won–Picture, Director, Actor (Abraham), Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound; Nominated–Actor (Hulce), Cinematography, Editing
Where to Watch: Rent/Buy

1984’s Amadeus was another multiple-Oscar-winning film I had yet to see, and one that I needed to borrow on DVD from my local library (yes, I still have a DVD/blu-ray player, despite all the streaming services available). The odd thing, too, was that the film — separated into two parts on a two-sided disc — was automatically set to mute dialogue, so that I wondered if that was the point, until I saw the older Salieri speaking with a priest. Fortunately, I was able to fix that setting. The movie wastes no time in introducing the principal character, Salieri, portrayed by F. Murray Abraham in an Oscar-winning role, as well as the setting and music (from Mozart, of course). 

People may complain about the historical inaccuracies of the events that transpire in the film, but what they may not realize is that it is based on the play written by Peter Shaffer (who also wrote the screenplay). The play itself isn’t based on fact; rather, it is a dramatization of events that probably didn’t happen, and a sort of fantasy about the rivalry between two talented composers, Mozart and Salieri, one of whom (Mozart) is obviously more talented (a genius, really). Throughout the course of the 158-minute film — which maybe is too long but director Milos Forman put everything in there for a reason —  we see Mozart and Salieri both as friends and as enemies, as Salieri is both in awe of Mozart’s talent and resentful of it. Their friendship-rivalry ends up taking a strange, dangerous turn, with tragic results. 

The film won 7 Oscars, and it’s easy to see why, as it’s a perfectly-made, entertaining, well-acted semi-biopic. Even if you weren’t already a fan of Mozart or of classical music, you’re sure to be drawn into it and appreciating the talent required to create such beautiful melodies and arrangements. There is no original score; rather, the music of Mozart is used purposefully and effectively to coincide with the narrative. The set design and costumes are superb, too, and help put one in the mindset of that time period and the culture. The only thing that takes away from the authenticity is that most actors use their own American accents, without using a European accent or even speaking in a European language (aside from brief appearance of German); this was clearly down for a reason, as sometimes American actors are unable to come up with a convincing enough accent, so I will let this slide. 

Tom Hulce’s Mozart and Abraham’s Salieri are ideal foils to one another; Hulce portrays Mozart as a foolish genius with an uncannily strange laugh and an intense dedication to his craft but to nothing else, whereas Abraham portrays Salieri as a solid talent in his own right whose envy of and anger towards Mozart propels him to do terrible things. Abraham’s performance is the one that won here, and, while it’s far less showy than Hulce’s, it’s not less effective; Salieri is telling the story, and Abraham’s best scenes are actually the later ones, in old-age makeup. Both gentleman were deservedly nominated in the leading actor categories, and it would have been difficult for me to choose the winner.