Copying Beethoven
MGM // R // November 10, 2006
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted November 10, 2006
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Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger, "National Treasure") has been sent to Vienna to assist Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris) with his work, copying his musical pieces to prepare them for concert. An aspiring composer herself, Holtz helps the arrogant and self-destructive Beethoven find clarity to his craft, and in return, he inspires Holtz to pursue her creative impulses. The two find a kinship in music, but when Beethoven's madness begins to calcify his genius, Holtz finds herself more intertwined in his life than she could have previously imagined.

Ludwig van Beethoven has been the subject of a plethora of films, and his majestic music has carried humanity on its shoulders for hundreds of years. The thorn in the side of "Copying Beethoven" isn't the legacy of the composer, but a 1994 film entitled "Immortal Beloved."

"Beloved" was a thrilling, lush, and intensely romantic look at Beethoven during the creative process, and the passions that lead him to near insanity. Played by Gary Oldman, Beethoven was a man of mystery, haunted by his musical gifts, yet confident in the magic he could weave with an orchestra. "Beloved" was a stunning film, and while it's unfair to compare "Beethoven" to it, it's important to remind potential audiences that if you want a Beethoven fix, there are other options available to you besides this cranky, nearly unwatchable endurance test.

Director Agnieszaka Holland has always had a free pass with me for her incredible work bringing the definitive version of "The Secret Garden" to the screen in 1992. Unfortunately, my patience has run out. Holland botches this Beethoven story in so many frightening ways that it would take the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to list them all, and I would recommend you just take the precious time to soak up that piece of ungodly euphoric music.

"Beethoven" is sluggish, annoyingly enraptured with period detail, and generally dramatically bloodless all around. But I would gladly sit through a loop of that if it meant I never had to watch Ed Harris as the titular composer again.

Harris is a bear of an actor and always gravitates towards men of unruly psychological mettle. Essentially, he loves spittle-drenched outbursts, and this role gives him a virtual playground to romp around in, chewing the scenery and generally demonstrating his tired method acting. Harris is an incredible ham in "Beethoven," stomping Godzilla-style over every delicate emotional cue, dramatic reasoning, and lilting bulb of musical inspiration, trying to reach some ridiculous fever pitch unknown to the audience, and tragically, to Holland as well. She can't contain him, so Harris is allowed to roam freely with this embarrassing, indulgent reading of a multifaceted man, and the film essentially liquefies because Harris can't be bothered to calm down and work his instincts carefully.

The only one who escapes this gas leak of a film is Diane Kruger, ditching the damsel-in-distress roles she typically plays. Kruger has the less flashy role in the timid Holtz, but in a blustery film like this, she's the beacon of subtlety.

There's one terrific scene in "Beethoven" detailing the help Holtz extends to the composer during the first public reveal of the Ninth Symphony. It's a moment of body language and sonic euphoria; it blinds with beauty because it's the single sequence in the film where none of the performers are allowed their normal acting bells and whistles, instead forced to project from their belly the peace of the artistic moment. Heavens, I wish the whole film was pattered after this single, gorgeous scene.



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