We see Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the envious eyes of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a seemingly crazy old man who claims to have killed the musical genius and who tells his tale to a priest. Even as a boy, Salieri had been envious of Mozart, who had already gained a reputation as a preternaturally gifted prodigy by entertaining the royalty of Europe. Salieri idolized the slightly younger Mozart and prayed to God for the chance to make his own music.
That chance finally came and Salieri became the court composer for the music-loving, if tone-deaf, Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). Salieri is content until Mozart (Tom Hulce) arrives in Vienna and is commissioned by the Emperor to write a German-language opera. Mozart turns out to be a silly, giggling, rather vulgar man-child whose biggest fan is himself. He also manages to demonstrate the mediocrity of Salieri's music during the first five minutes of his introduction. The Emperor's court is offended by his manner, but Salieri continues to quietly admire him--while also asking God why He gave Salieri the desire to praise Him in music, while denying him the talent to do so.
Mozart's opera is a success, though the Emperor comments it may have “more notes than the human ear can hear.” Mozart is soon pushed into a marriage to a young woman, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), who appreciates her husband's talent but is frustrated by his inability to make and hold onto money.
When Salieri manages to get a look at some of Mozart's first--and perfect--drafts, he decides Mozart is the voice of God. Outraged by the choice of vessel, Salieri turns against God and pledges to ruin his incarnation.
“Amadeus” is so many things and they are all equally fascinating. There's the costume drama that doesn't seem like a costume drama: The actors look totally believable in their dress and powdered wigs, and the atmosphere is decidedly unstuffy. There's the joyous celebration of music as seen through the admiration of Salieri and genius of Mozart and demonstrated by the beautifully stages selections from his operas. Never once does the movie stop cold for a musical interlude; rather, the music is completely integrated into the film's plottings and emotions in a seamless manner rarely seen in such productions.
And there's one man's battle with God. F. Murray Abraham, a busy if relatively unknown actor, gives a brilliant performance as Salieri, a man cursed with the ability to recognize genius and the inability to achieve it.
Tom Hulce is also quite good as the whinnying, tactless Mozart. Hulce was previously known for his role in “Animal House,” but that should change. The movie is filled with similarly winning performances, thanks to Forman's tendency to give actors the room and time to create memorable characters. It's Forman's deliberate, realistic style of filmmaking that allowed this all-around success to occur. Starring F Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice and Jeffrey Jones. Directed by Milos Forman. Written by Peter Shaffer. Produced by Saul Zaentz. An Orion release. Drama. Rated PG. Running time: 158 min