Wednesday 27 April 2016

Review: The Man Who Knew Infinity

The Man Who Knew Infinity
Cert: 12A / 109 mins / Dir. Matt Brown / Trailer

Infinity may be referenced in the title and the script, but this film is anything but, positively constricted by its 109 minutes. There's the feeling in the opening act that this is a story which has been butchered to fit a standard run-time as we meet Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a lowly clerk for a British-run firm in Madras, shortly before the first world war. His intellect is anything but lowly, of course, although we only learn this by having almost every other character openly refer to him as a genius, without actually showing us how or why he's so special. Because how do you break things down to a potentially "non-mathematical" audience without losing them completely? Well, in TMWKI's case, you don't, really.

By which I mean that it's largely not demonstrated, not that the film loses its audience with complicated explanations of numerical brain-aches. Now I'm no rocket-scientist (no, you shut up), but even I was wanting to 'see the working out' as much as Ramanujan's mentor in old Blighty, Hardy. The main problem (for me) is that the prodigy's early schooling isn't even mentioned, much less shown. I bought that he was an intuitive mathematician, and I accepted his frustration at being 'slowed down' by the establishment wanting to fully test his theories. But the fact that his apparently self-taught skills manifested themselves in the Western form of written equations, that the staff at Cambridge University could understand at a glance yet still not fully comprehend? Not explained. Even a duck has to be taught to swim.

As well as powering through the five-year timespan as if it had invented a time-machine while it was on, the film also has to deal with an Indian academic living in England during a global war, when emotions are at a high and ethnic diplomacy isn't. This delicate subject is addressed rather indelicately, as is the more institutional xenophobia of the 'old guard' of the time. Director Matt Brown's script takes a very button-pushing approach, which would be more forgivable if its resolution wasn't handled with equal naivety in the film's final throes.

The humorous lines intended to lighten the mood don't fare too much better, often feeling contrived. Although to be fair, the largely senior audience around me merrily chortled their way through gags which evoked little more than a wry grin from myself, leading me to think that maybe this film is perfectly fulfilling the task for which it was created, and that I'm just a massive film-snob. But then, I know I'm a massive film-snob, and even accounting for this, the film isn't that funny.

Most typical scene:
INT. Hospital. Day.
Hardy (Irons) stands by the hospital bed of Ramanujan (Patel), quizzing a doctor, Muthu (San Shella) on the TB-ridden patient's condition.
Hardy: …is it bad?
Muthu: I'm afraid so, sir.
Hardy: Well, can't we do anything?
Muthu: I'm afraid not, no. This is the worst case of Second Act Screenwriter's Cough I've seen in some time, and with a protagonist as virtuous as Ramanujan here, it's unlikely he'll make the credits.
Hardy: Well, I'm sure his inevitable moral vindication at the film's finale will temporarily remove the conspicuous-looking dark patches under his eyes so that "poorly film-makeup man" isn't the lingering image in the memory of the audience as they file out of the auditorium…

Both Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons give it their all, but they're let down by the kind of script that makes a callback (the "1729" reference) to a setup which occurred less than five minutes earlier, and which is less than five minutes before the end of the film. Either the writer is to blame for this structural faux pas, or the editor.

Where is the wonder, where is the awe? Where is the titularly-implied infinity?

With the best will in the world, this is a poor man's Theory of Everything; a great story let down by an awful screenplay which doesn't do its subject justice. And shoehorning in Stephen Fry and Toby Jones won't change that…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Theory of Everything, Belle.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
DVD (or TV), Sunday afternoon.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Not enough, I'm afraid.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not really.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Many level 2s to choose from here, but let's go for Jeremy Irons, who starred in 1995's Die Hard With A Vengeance alongside Sam 'Windu' Jackson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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