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segunda-feira, 21 de setembro de 2015
The Man Who Knew Infinity review: 'by the numbers'
Jeremy Irons jollies up this formulaic period biopic, starring Dev Patel as an Indian maths genius facing racism in English academia
Dev Patel, solving equations. It’s not the most immediately enticing hook for a prestige drama, whether or not The Imitation Game has managed to pique anyone’s interest in tweedy wartime biopics about troubled maths geniuses. The Man Who Knew Infinity is practically the same formula scribbled on a blackboard, a true story brimming with noble intentions to the point where you feel guilty resisting it.
Knuckling down to a considerably more rigorous intellectual challenge than he faced in Slumdog Millionaire, Patel plays the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, whose research in the field of number theory took English academe by storm around the time of the First World War.
Self-taught but unemployed and virtually living rough in Madras, he reached out, via India-based civil engineer Sir Francis Spring (a dry then welcoming three-minute cameo from Stephen Fry) to Cambridge theorist GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons), who initially suspected a prank: who was this no-name Indian who claimed he could “give meaning to negative values of the gamma function”, anyway?
In time, the working relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan, which gives first-time writer-director Matthew Brown his dramatic core, became hugely important to both of them. Hardy, a confirmed bachelor, even went so far as to call their collaboration “the one romantic incident in my life”.
Brown’s script, itching for conflict, plays up the institutional racism of other Trinity College fellows unwilling to credit the originality of Ramanujan’s proofs, and generally raining on his parade. Every 10 minutes or so, another supporting player gets wheeled on to dent his confidence with ethnic slurs or scoff at the very idea of his so-called brilliance.
Patel is a difficult actor to have complete faith in, and he does way too much clenching of his jaw in suppressed indignation, welling eyes darting left and right as he absorbs the latest blow. That said, his very lightweight-ness gives him purchase on this role – coming across as overawed by all the marble busts and gowns and rival egos, once he’s moved to Cambridge, is rather a natural mode for him to stake out.
It actually has the makings of a touching performance, but Brown’s film can’t help but sanctify Ramanujan to a needless and damaging degree. He’s literally crowned by a halo of sunlight at one point – the star of his own hagiography and recipient of endless great PR from all those dons, like the unfailingly reasonable John Littlewood (Toby Jones).
If what you need from this film is Dev Patel sprinting through main quad at least once with a sheaf of papers clutched in his fist, consider yourself in resolutely safe hands. The direction is run of the mill, the music’s a bore, and the story doesn’t go anywhere too surprising. Watching the increasingly bloodshod Patel fail to eat for a good hour of screen time gives us a fairly clear idea where we’re headed.
So thank goodness for his principal co-star. With this and his beaky architect in High-Rise, some sort of late-career Jeremy Irons Age is unexpectedly upon us. It’s a hoot to be reminded what jolly company he can be in movies, and what life he can bring to an awful lot of dusty armchair exposition by summoning more engagement than was even necessary. He has a flashy scene strolling through Trinity under a black umbrella, even though the sun’s out: Hardy confessed himself an atheist, but his odd superstitions, convictions and quirks give Irons a field day.
At all the film’s emotional peaks, Hardy struggles to meet Ramanujan’s gaze, retreating from eye contact into a stricken, hidden place that feels true to a certain brainy English personality. He makes you realise how excessively many actors – Patel is one – rely on their eyes as coercive windows to the soul. Irons’s Hardy steals this film away from its ostensible hero, in part because pulling the shutters down makes him that much harder to know.
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITYTELEGRAPHACTORSJeremy Irons, Toby Jones, Dev Patel, Stephen FryDIRECTORMatt BrownGENREBiography, DramaSYNOPSISAfter an impoverished upbringing in Madras, India, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar gets into Cambridge University and becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories. Set during WWI.RELEASE DATETBCDURATION114 minRATINGTBCCOUNTRYUK