Review: ‘The Song of Names’ is too downtempo

It’s minutes before a show.  The theatre is sold out and the crowds are dressed to the nines.  The orchestra is ready and everyone is waiting to see the young virtuoso violin player than the entire city can’t stop talking about. 

The only problem is that he’s nowhere to be found.  This is the first scene in The Song of names.  The virtuoso, a young Jewish immigrant named Dovidl,  adopted by a British violin instructor in the years before world war 2, who becomes like a son to the instructor and brother to the instructors’ son Martin, who then disappears on the night of his big debut.  

Fast forward to 40 years later, the now-adult Martin hasn’t seen his adopted brother since that fateful day, but a new clue sets him on the path to rediscovering what happens on that fateful night. 

What should be a sombre reflection on two lives lived ends up kind of being a bit of a slog.  Tim Roth plays the adult Martin as best he can with the material that he is given but I felt no investment in his story, or when it’s finally revealed what happened to Dovidl, in a moment that should pack an emotional wallop I didn’t feel much more than a gentle nudge. 

Once the story connects with Dovidl as an adult, now played by Clive Owen, things get a little more interesting but Owen seems to be sleepwalking through the part.

There are things to like in this movie though.  A new original score by Howard Shore is one of them, and indeed basically every musical performance is great.  One, in particular, a musical duel between Dovidl and another young violinist in a London bomb shelter, is particularly great. 

But these pieces can’t save the movie as a whole from being a bit too stuffy and uninteresting.