Rob Reviews "Chevalier"
In the late 1700s, France was on the brink of revolution as the lower classes were finally fed up with the rich and their queen, Marie Antoinette. Amongst all of this lived a man who was both shunned and celebrated in Joseph Bologne. The son of an affair between a slave girl and her plantation owner, his father’s money and his musical talents get him into a very private school in Paris where his gifts for arts and competition flourish and are recognized by everyone including Antoinette herself. His talents and struggles are at the center of veteran television director Stephen Williams’ Chevalier.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. plays the title character, and you may not know his name, but his resume is stout in both television and film, most recently as B.B. King in Elvis and Christian in Cyrano. His portrayal of Chevalier de Saint-Georges (the title he has bestowed upon him by Marie Antoinette) shows the man who is relentless in his pursuit of excellence and grace in both demeanor and delivery. He could have chosen to be bitter and angry at the situation his father has put him in, but he uses it as the opportunity to rise above what the world assumes about him in order to go toe-to-toe with the masters of his craft and not letting anything get in his way. Lucy Boynton plays Antoinette as a royal who just wants to be loved by all but finally relents to the politics that she has let get out of control very convincing as well along with Samara Weaving as his muse, forming an informal triangle that I don’t really list as one of love by all three but more of acceptance and respect. Also along for the ride here is the great Martin Csokas as the jealous and crazed husband for Weaving’s character and the always amazing Minnie Driver as the aging diva that will hold on to the stage as long as she can and is willing to do whatever it takes to do so to round out a cast that pulls off this story masterfully.
It's always a good thing to have a distribution label like Spotlight (formerly Fox Spotlight) for films like this because as much as it deserves a mass audience, this is not a subject matter that may get to it. Especially as we are moving at light speed towards the summer movie season, Chevalier is a film that could easily get lost in the shuffle, and that is nothing short of a shame. From strong performances that glide through the narrative (screenwriter Stefani Robinson really lands the proverbial bird here) to spot-on aesthetics from cinematographer Jess Hall and a score by Kris Bowers that incorporates seven of Bologne’s long lost pieces to it (stay for the end title cards to understand there, it's right before the end credits themselves), this is a film that immersed me in its world with relative ease.
As a musician myself, I am always intrigued by films like this. What sets Chevalier apart from a lot of others is how it does not try to push itself too much in the mechanics and mind of its subject but is able to balance that with the impact of who Bologne is and how he is able to handle the world around him. This is definitely worth a watch with the volume cranked up to let his work fill the room and remind us that gifts should be celebrated regardless of who the creator of that gift is.