Review: The Song of Names

I was going to make this more of a full-blown review but then decided not to bother, as the film itself is simply too unsatisfying to recommend. I wanted to like it. The premise seemed quite interesting. The first half was slow but engaging. The performances were solid. The music was hauntingly beautiful. And yet – the last half-hour destroyed whatever goodwill I was feeling toward the film by taking the final act in a direction that was awkward and annoying. Talk about ending on a sour note!

Here’s the gist: virtuoso violinist Dovidl Rapaport is a no-show for a 1951 London concert that would have launched his career. His sudden disappearance haunts the British family that had taken him in as a youngster at the start of World War II, essentially shielding him from the fate befalling his Jewish family in Poland.

Where did he go? Why did he leave? Did something nefarious happen? Is he dead?

Fast-forward 35 years and Dovidl’s childhood friend and “brother” Martin (Tim Roth) finds out that Dovidl (Clive Owen) is probably still alive, so he embarks on an obsessive intercontinental search to find the violinist- and get some answers. Throughout the journey, the film flashes back to Martin and Dovidl as children, teens and young men in war-torn Europe. It’s the younger characters’ performances that I liked best, especially Jonah Hauer-King as Dovidl from 17-23.

Clive Owen may share top billing with Roth, but he seems terribly miscast as a devoted Jew who loses his way, only to reclaim his faith after hearing a traditional recitation – a song – recounting the names of all those lost in the Holocaust (thus the title of the movie and the book it’s based on – “The Song of Names” by Norman Lebrecht).

The film is directed by François Girard (The Red Violin) and scored by Academy Award Winner Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), which helps explain why the music has a stronger impact than any particular character. I have a feeling the ending worked better on the pages of the novel than it does in the film. The narrative goes so off-key in the final half-hour that the overall impression suffers a fatal blow. My suggestion: read the book, listen to the soundtrack, and skip the film.

 

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