review for 'Round Midnight on AllMovie

'Round Midnight (1986)
by Dan Jardine review

'Round Midnight, a film inspired by the lives of Bud Powell and Lester Young, is director Bertrand Tavernier's audio-visual lament for the impending death of jazz. Tavernier utilizes a roving camera and be-bop editing to tell this story of the relationship between a self-destructive, emotionally-disintegrating but technically-brilliant jazz legend (Dexter Gordon) living and working in exile in France, and his fawning Gaullic admirer (Francois Cluzet). A subtle chauvinism underlies the story, as America is the land that devours its genius, while France succors it. The startlingly authentic performance of real-life tenor-sax legend and non-actor Dexter Gordon in the lead role is a stroke of genius. His raspy staccato delivery captures the world-weariness of his character perfectly, while he and fellow players' superb musicianship in the key performance passages adds an important element of authenticity and verisimilitude to the proceedings (all performances were filmed live, with no post-production dubbing). Herbie Hancock's Academy Award-winning musical helmsmanship layers the film with a moody melancholia, allowing it to tell its story with jazz riffs as much as words. The story is thinly-plotted, lyrical, and romantic, guided by the spirit of the art form it celebrates.