Flowing at a proper, enjoyable pace and staying naturally engaging isn't an easy feat for "inspirational" films. Sports films like Rudy and other off-kilter character studies like 8 Mile strike a few notes on the head; most others like this, however, just feel preachy. Music Within is one of those rare inspirational films that chime in on everything just right, from the pacing to the splendid acting. Director Stephen Sawalich knew what he was getting into when he took on this true story, which is obvious by how solidly he melded his emotive film with a quality script to craft a strong, tightly realized biopic.
Music Within follows the true story behind the life of Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston, Band of Brothers), a Vietnam veteran wounded in an accident during the conflict that would change his life forever. From the start, he's always had a knack for speeches and motivation. Heck, even the day he enlisted into the Army was the same day he tried our for a debate scholarship at a university. After he returns from Vietnam, he decides to harness this talent, as well as his newly stricken deafness, to relay the message that even disabled folks can be an asset to the world. He doesn't just concentrate on war victims; Richard Pimentel stretches his abilities to include finding jobs for disabled people of all kinds, potentially even those resembling the defects of his close friend Art (Michael Sheen, The Queen).
Art, interestingly enough, becomes one of the primary forces behind Music Within's potency. He's stricken with cerebral palsy, a disorder that distorts his bodily functions yet maintains healthy activity within the brain. Michael Sheen, already lauded for portrayal of Tony Blair in The Queen, shows his true versatility as an actor as he harnesses these eccentricities. Art's full of quirkiness infused with sparks of brilliance, all eschewed by his necessity to force it through his jerky movements and slurred speech. Now apparently he's only able to be heard properly by Richard, which is difficult to clearly comprehend after taking Richard's hearing problems into account (interestingly, answered in the bonus material below). However, there's a certain level of magic between Art and Richard that's hard to deny, even with minor quibbles.
Most of Richard's profound speech ideas come from Art, who helps the film hinge on its message that these individuals can fight through their challenging surfaces to show the potential still pulsating deep within. Art becomes his prime example of a person with brilliance inside that shouldn't be neglected, thus becoming the true framework of inspiration for Richard. Music Within doesn't try and preach on the societal ideal of taking more fluent care of disabled people, but more on the fact that they ought to be embraced as people just like everyone else. On that level, Music Within succeeds in spades, while only in patches does the film feel a bit heavy with the "woe-is-me" attitude. It illustrates how people, even the core advocate Richard himself, can overcome real discriminatory obstacles, especially scornful ones, to be a thriving part of the world's network. There's a great scene that sketches this out involving Richard and a government fund counselor, played by great character actor Clint Howard, where they share some discomfortingly sharp lines between the two that blends with some rather biting wit buzzing amidst their conversation.
Music Within's smooth, kinetic pace and blunt sense of humor keep the mood light enough to fully embrace. Within a short 90-minute timeframe, we're taken through Richard Pimentel's life from start to current in, surprisingly, very in-depth fashion. We see how he becomes extrinsic at a child, how he meets his first real girlfriend (Melissa George), and how he challenges the fabric of the government with his splendid ideas - all without losing a single thumping beat amidst its enveloping and engrossing flow. You grow to like each of the characters, especially Art, while warmly laughing with the timing of their dialogue's delivery. Hearing Richard's reaction after he lands his first professional job once he returned from the war is one of the many grin-worthy moments in Music Within.
It wouldn't be nearly as strong of a film as it is, however, without Ron Livingston as Richard Pimentel. We see him as both a young college student and an elder spokesperson with a cocktail in his hand at a convention, neither of which cause a bat of the eye at his credibility in either position. Livingston's always been a favored satirical actor of mine, all the way back to his headstrong role in Swingers, but outside of Band of Brothers his dramatic chops haven't been exercised quite like this up until now. Color me pleasantly surprised; his projected voice, painful glances, and exasperated mannerisms really make Richard out to be a character that appears to soak in exactly what he preaches. His performance, melded with a great supporting cast and a script that fleshes their characters out with fantastic detail, makes Music Within a genuinely enjoyable portrait of societal development during the '70s.
MGM presents Music Within in a standard keepcase presentation with nice mosaic coverart illustrating the three key characters in the film.
Music Within chimes in with a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, riddled with radiant amber and sepia tones across the board. It has a hazy feel at times, which gives it that nice warm '70s feel to the image. Digital noise can be seen against many backdrops in several locations, but none of which detract really from the viewing experience. The only complaint I have is that the image felt a bit flat and stony in several location, like during some scenes at Richard's college. Regarding detail, color offerings, and excessive edge enhancement, Music Within delivers a very strong image.
The film's sound design revolves around making Art as audible as he can be and giving Richard's speaking as much energy s possible. This Dolby 5.1 track makes certain to highlight each of these points quite well, then steps away from doing much else to accentuate the sound design. The Forrest Gump-esque musical accompaniment sounded fine, but the effects in the war sounded subdued and rather dull. However, what truly matters within the aural presentation gets delivered well. Spanish and French Dolby surround options are also available, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Audio Commentary with director Sawalich, writer Kennemer, and producer Donowho:
Prepare for a typical film 101 style commentary here from these three, only with a light and airy demeanor about them. They discuss details about the film, production design, as well as some connective history with the real people behind the story. Filming locations and prop discussion also wiggle into the discussion, such as the height of a lawnmower from the ground, which offer up some great items for digestion. It's kind of a stale listen, but still highly informative.
Making of The Music:
This featurette is roughly 10 minutes long and features a lot of retellingof the story, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage from several of the film's key scenes. You're looking at very generic marketing fluff, though its spruced up by some interviews with Richard Pimentel himself. It tiptoes onto been there, done that grounds, but still gives up some good material worth watching.
18 minutes of scenes are included here that span across moments from Richard's childhood to his more influential years as a professional spokesperson. It's a shame that the film is paced as well as it is, because a lot of the material here provides further character strength. Sure, the characters are outlined well-enough as is, but these bits would further this strength and display another great array of solid dialogue.
Richard Pimentel Speech:
Now this, by far, is my favorite part of the disc. A 15-minute speech is featured here that Richard Pimentel gave in which he fully draws out the story told within Music Within. Pimentel is a hilarious person, one who could easily make a living as a comedian instead of a spokesperson and a speaker. Hearing the true story, as well as how it aligns and delineates with the film's narrative, is a real treat. Most importantly, he explains exactly HOW he's able to hear Art through his problematic speaking patterns. The speech starts out as he enters Vietnam and covers all the way until he meets Art and experiences his life-altering experience with him.
Also included are a few unrelated Trailers.
Great character actors and an equally well-fleshed script to match their personalities really pump fuel into Music Within's truly inspirational story. Especially with Michael Sheen's portrayal as Art, everything here amidst this hard storyline gets a natural infusion that flows at a strong, feel-good pace. MGM's disc looks and sounds quite nice, all the while providing a few great extras that make the disc worth owning itself. It's an uplifting film with equally radiant performances that deserves its very hearty Recommendation.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site