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Review: 'The Song of Names' plays a muffled tune

Tim Roth and Clive Owen star in drama about childhood friends, separated by circumstance

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "The Song of Names," a central mystery becomes a tedious waiting game. A payoff is coming — you know it from the film's opening credits, or its poster — but it takes so long to reveal itself that when it does, it can't help but feel anticlimactic.  

Tim Roth stars as Martin, a New Yorker who is looking to track down a long lost childhood friend. Dovidl was a prodigious violinist who moved in with Martin's family when he was growing up in early 1950s London. On the eve of performing a big concert, Dovidl vanishes, not to be heard from again.  

Luke Doyle in "The Song of Names."

Flash forward 35 years, and Martin is judging musical competitions, still with Dovidl in the back of his mind. When he spots a child with impressive technique, he thinks he may hold the key to finding his friend, and he begins putting together the pieces of the puzzle that has long alluded him and haunted him for a lifetime.

Spoiler alert: Clive Owen shares billing with Roth in the movie, so it's obvious early on the role he plays and that a reunion is on the horizon. What makes "The Song of Names" a struggle is the frequent flashbacks of Martin and Dovidl as children, which paints their friendship in the most generic of ways.

The child actors — Misha Handley plays young Martin, Luke Doyle plays young Dovidl — are too precocious to be convincing, and just when you've had enough of the repetitive throwback scenes, we graduate to new actors playing them as teenagers. 

Directed by François Girard ("The Red Violin"), "The Song of Names" becomes something else entirely once Owen enters the picture, turning into a profound, solemn, mournful rumination on religion, community and ancestral duty. But the road getting there is full of speed bumps which mar the journey.

'The Song of Names'


Rated PG-13: for some strong language, brief sexual material, thematic elements, and smoking

Running time: 113 minutes