While acting students may consider Copying Beethoven a homework assignment, moviegoers won't get much more than affirmationexcept the fact Ed Harris is still great.
Don't worry, nobody's plagiarizing the great composer here. A copyist is just someone who takes the messy notes of a mad genius and turns them into neat musical sheets orchestras can read. Copyist Anna Holz (Diane Kruger), a student at the Vienna Music Conservatory, gets a killer job working with Ludwig Van Beethoven (Ed Harris) at the peak of his success. While she witnesses him compose his famous Ninth Symphony, Anna works on her own composition, hoping Beethoven will impart some of his genius. Of course, learning from a master is no easy task. Just ask Luke Skywalker. Beethoven trashes not only Anna's work but her fiancé's work, too. He may be mean, but perhaps his comments are painfully truthful. Beethoven challenges Anna's perception of art and presses her to find her true musical voice. Anna is a fictional character based on a composite of music students, including some males. Since she doesn't really exist, it makes the whole movie feel like a shallow device just to set up Harris' performance as the well-known legend.
The Oscar-nominated Harris is brilliant for sure. His flamboyant theatrics make Ludwig Van Beethoven a wild man, not some stodgy old guy whose music plays in the dentist's waiting room. At this stage in his life, his deafness is not total. He wears a primitive appliance for a hearing aid, but Harris never plays up the disability. It's just a fact of the character's life. As well, Harris' subtle accent makes it feel foreign enough but easy to understand. Kruger (National Treasure) has little to do next to Harris. It seems her whole function is to act as a sounding board for Beethoven. She takes his abuse with repressed calm and goes all doe-eyed for the slightest feedback. It's not her fault, since that's all the film asks of her. Other actors read from the Period Pieces for Dummies handbook. As Anna's fiancé, Matthew Goode (Match Point) just rags on her employer as a symbol of the independence that makes his life inconvenient. Music fans from the 19th century just fawn all over Beethoven like ego serving masses.
Director Agnieszka Holland creates a believable 19th century Vienna. Costumes look appropriately frilly, language is appropriately dated and the sets range from lavish concert halls to dingy hovels. One assumes Ed Harris needs no guidance, so all credit for portraying Beethoven goes to him. The overshadowing nature of his character is inherent to the role but no one rises to the challenge of measuring up to him. The script doesn't create any interest in the copyist outside of providing Beethoven a forum to show how outrageous and impossible he is. Since we know she doesn't exist, we know she's not going to become famous in her own right. There's no drama to the mentor story. It would have been nice to see a guy like Beethoven meet his match, real or imagined. But as just another portrait of an artist, the story seems unnecessary. The composer's life has been told many time, with much more compelling mystery such as in Immortal Beloved. Copying Beethoven offers nothing more worthwhile. It's the kind of movie made purely for acting awards, which is really unfair to audiences who deserve at least some story for their money.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.