‘Radioactive’ is a Curie-ous Biopic

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Radioactive (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Aneurin Barnard

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Little Love and Some Death

Release Date: July 24, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

Is there anyone who has been more iconic in the annals of both science and romance as Marie Curie? Her research has had far-reaching effects on human society, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (and the first person of any gender to win a second Nobel), and she was married to a fellow scientist who by all accounts greatly respected and encouraged her work. Considering all that, a biopic about her ought to be pretty wondrous, and that does seem to be what the Marjane Satrapi-directed Radioactive is after. As Marie, Rosamund Pike delivers an appropriately ethereal and almost supernatural performance. But like many true life cinematic stories that cover a wide range of time, the film struggles to focus on its strongest elements.

The Curie love story is sweet as Marie and Pierre (Sam Riley) find their way to each other via their own peculiarities. Their courtship is marked by lines like, “How do I look at you? Like a fermenting brain?” She initially holds him at arm’s length, worried that he will expect her to be the sort of wife who gives up her own pursuits for the sake of marriage. Of course, dramatic irony and the historical record assures us that isn’t the case, and it is lovely to see how the mutual respect of these two played such a big part in influencing the future of the whole planet.

Alas, the Curies’ marriage lasted barely more than a decade, as Pierre died in an accident at the age of 46. That leaves a pretty good chunk of movie left, during which Marie and Pierre’s elder daughter Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy), yet another scientist in the family, ascends to fill the role of her mother’s on-screen partner. During this back half, we get plenty of foreshadowing of the deadly fate that awaits Marie due to her years of exposure to radiation. Satrapi and screenwriter Jack Thorne could have played up this element a bit more to achieve more of a horror bent. It probably wasn’t what they were aiming for, but it would’ve made the film more distinct.

Beyond all that, the most effective element of Radioactive is the handful of flash-forwards we get to demonstrate the influence of Marie’s work: a doctor employing an experimental treatment on a young boy with cancer, the bombing of Hiroshima, a nuclear test explosion in Nevada, and a visit to the Chernobyl disaster. I wish there had been more of these moments, as they’re where the message really hits home the hardest. If the movie were structured more thoroughly around them, it could have made for a fully affecting film instead of an intermittently affecting one.

Radioactive is Recommended If You Like: Science, Feminism, Colleague Spouses

Grade: 3 out of 5 Radiums

This Is a Movie Review: Only Christopher Nolan Could Make a War Movie as Intricately Crafted as ‘Dunkirk’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan

Director: Christopher Nolan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for All the Moments That Make You Duck and Cover

Release Date: July 21, 2017

Christopher Nolan has established his reputation as filmmaker by tweaking the genre formulas of noir, superheroes, and mindbenders, inventing new dialects within pre-existing cinematic language. A war movie would not seem like the most obvious next logical step for him, as it would not seem to invite such inventiveness. But Nolan does indeed apply his puzzle-box approach to Dunkirk, and the end result makes perfect sense. The rescue of hundreds of soldiers after a massive military defeat is an attempt to impose order on a fundamentally chaotic situation, and accordingly, what Dunkirk accomplishes is a union of control and constant unease.

Nolan’s method of choice for dramatizing the 1940 World War II evacuation from the titular French beaches is ingenious, but it could have just as easily been a folly in less steady hands. There are three intercut portions: taking place over a week, the boys on the shore waiting to be rescued; taking place over a day, a mariner navigating his fishing vessel across the English Channel to provide support; and taking place over an hour, Air Force pilots clearing the skies to make the rescue easier. The order of events is accordingly difficult to keep track of, and ultimately beside the point. Dunkirk is about the overwhelming experience, as it asks the audience to simultaneously intuit both sustained and short-burst tension.

While the acting is uniformly solid, no single character makes much of an impression, unless you count the music as a character. The dialogue is perpetually difficult to parse: the accents are thicker than your average Brit, the constant dusk and frequent profile shots make it hard to lip read, Tom Hardy wears a mask. But it is Hans Zimmer’s relentlessly thrumming score that gets most in the way. A constant tick-tick-tick is the new BWAHHH. According to Christopher Nolan’s analysis of war, the fight to defend ideals is often cacophonous and rarely allows for relief.

Dunkirk is Recommended If You Like: Saving Private Ryan crossed with Inception, Their Finest

Grade: 4 out of 5 Open-Faced PB&J Sandwiches