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‘Chevalier’ Review: Kelvin Harrison Jr. Magnifies the Screen in Staggering Biopic

Chevalier boasts an incredible cast who elevate the film's more predictable beats.

Stephen Williams’ Chevalier opens with a tense violin duel between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). I doubt that this alteraction ever happened, but damn is it fun to watch. It also sets the mood for what the movie will be about: the chronicle of an artist whose sole goal was to revolutionize music, only for him to be ostracized by his closest peers because of the color of his skin.

Read: SEE IT: Kelvin Harrison Jr. Becomes A Music Prodigy In The First Trailer For Searchlight’s ‘Chevalier’

Bologne was appointed Chevalier de Saint-Georges by Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), who becomes a close friend of his. Bologne aims at becoming the director of the Paris Opera, and challenges its frontrunner to a contest between the two. However, his dream will shortly fall apart when opera singer Marie-Madeleine Guimard (Minnie Driver) signs a petition that his nomination be removed due to his skin color, after Chevalier refused her sexual advances.

But Chevalier also has problems of his own. He becomes infatuated by Marie-Josephine de Montalembert (Samara Weaving), whom he wants to be the lead of his Opera. However, her husband, Marc René (Marton Csokas), does not want her to lead any Opera, fearing that she will become an object of affection throughout France. What he doesn’t know is that Marie-Joséphine has fallen in love with Chevalier, and the two have an affair.

This movie goes through a lot, and at a rather breakneck pace. Unfortunately, it’s also terribly formulaic. It starts in media res, but moves into a traditional biopic right after its cold open. The movie then treads into familiar beats, without ever attempting to reinvent the structure, even if what’s on screen is technically impressive. The cinematography from Jess Hall is lush and precise, John Axelrad’s editing is extremely tight (particularly during a tense fencing sequence), and the sound design is particularly engulfing. All of these elements elevate Chevalier‘s formulaic structure into a moving and emotional biopic, alongside show-stopping performances from its cast.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a real force to be reckoned with from the moment the film begins and grabs you with its Mozart duel from its thrilling finale, where he indirectly tells Marie Antoinette what he thinks of the ancien régime. It’s an emotionally charged performance that ranks extremely high as the best lead performance of any movie I’ve seen in 2023. He shares electrifying chemistry with Weaving, who is also excellent as Marie-Josephine. As Marc René, Csokas is extremely comfortable playing the despicable antagonist, but he is unfortunately quite underused. Minnie Driver and Lucy Boynton are also great through limited screentime, and share thrilling monologues involving Chevalier.

They also elevate the material and bring Chevalier into a thoroughly engaging and staggering biopic. Its structure may not reinvent the wheel, but when everything else is so well made and performed, you can’t help but appreciate the film for what it is. Chevalier contains masterful performances, impeccable technical craft and strong monologues for its characters, that it’s no surprise how fast it’ll hook you from beginning to end, even if you know how Williams will achieve his end result. As far as early awards contenders go, don’t miss this one.

Chevalier is now playing in theatres everywhere.

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