Though it starts out on a thrilling opening note, this musical biopic isn’t quite as virtuosic as its subject
This biopic of the little-known Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the world’s first prominent Black classical composer, opens with a fierce indictment of history’s ignorance of its subject. Even if it’s one example of the movie’s dramatic license-taking, the scene — in which the Chevalier (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) challenges his eminent contemporary Mozart to an onstage musical “duel” and easily bests him — is a dramatically thrilling statement of intent for the movie.
Unfortunately, the rest of its overlong runtime doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of that opener. That’s largely because of the writing, which leaves uber-talented performers like Harrison Jr. with only a limited range of notes to play. What’s more, Chevalier stops short of exploring some of the most fascinating facts of its multihyphenate subject’s life — like the role he played in the French Revolution, commanding the first all-Black regiment in Europe — in favor of hewing to a predictable screenwriting formula that demands a romantic element to the plot, even if the one in question is only thinly backed by actual evidence. Still, while some of Chevalier’s filmmaking choices seem to misjudge what makes its subject so interesting, the key facts of his life — his extraordinary skill at music and fencing, the role racism played in blocking his greatest ambitions — still get enough exposure here to make it an enlightening watch.
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