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Archive for the ‘Toby Jones’ Category

The Man Who Understood Infinity

15 May

The Man Who Understood Infinity – directed by Matthew Brown. BioPic. 1 hour 48 minutes Color 2016

★★★★

The Story: A mathematical genius from India is almost beaten to death by the math department of Cambridge University.

~

In the old MGM days biopics spelled out their story with great big letters, A B C. Their plots required neither understanding, thought, or interpretation. Only acceptance. We were supposed to swallow their regimen whole. We were supposed to digest their formula by rote, since that is how they were written and since no other option was available, save, in the end, skepticism that whoever made this film maybe didn’t get their facts straight.

The writing of such biopics prohibits those scenes of conflict known as drama. What they offer instead is tableaux. That is their narrative method. In these tableaux actors must paralyze their power to act in order to mime as best they can what is constant brass. For the emotion of these stories does not depend upon actions, actors, or even characters. In tableaux there is no emotion. Or whatever emotion the music can eke out of us. There is only the rigid formality of responsible biographical information. They are about big names and require great stars to stand there and just do them.

Such biopics constitute an actual form. Many biopics follow it. The pauper-genius makes his way into the chambers of power and is met with scorn, ridicule, banishment, deadening doubt, and so forth. But someone allies himself with him, and, against all obstacles, he wins out in the end. It is a victory scathed by bitterness because of the price required to achieve it, which sometimes almost includes his mate.

This form is called the story of the underdog. And two actors of great grace and fluidity, Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel, constrain their imaginations to fit into the corset of the form in this one.

Deadening doubt is what Irons is allowed to play against Patel’s Srinivasa Ramanujan, a young impoverished nonentity who arrives from Madras at Cambridge where Irons’ Harold Hardy is a don in higher mathematics. Hardy has invited him there from India. Ramanujan is a completely untrained, unschooled conceptual genius. His mathematical formulas envision the answers to problems no one has ever solved.

Ramanujan is thrown to the snobs.  Hardy demands proofs of Ramanujan’s routes to the formulas. Ramanujan resists. Toby Jones stands by. Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell gives droll advice. And Ramanujan’s luscious wife has to stay in India thinking herself forgotten because her mother-in-law never delivers Ramanujan’s letters to her.

Audiences are biddable. They paid their ticket; they don’t stalk out.

Because there are other benefits here besides dramatic or narrative ones.

One of these is the setting of Cambridge in the midlands and the quad and rooms of Trinity College.

Another is the presence of these two actors who are so vivid by nature.

Irons is not here in his virtuoso mode. He plays a character hoping to save himself from the peril of disgrace by forcing his doubt on a perfect flower. That, to Hardy, mathematics itself is a poppy makes doubt grate on his wonder.

Dev Patel – he of the Slumdog Millionaire, he of the Marigold Hotels – grips one, as he always does, by the honest vitality of his being. Nothing about this actor is forced, which is a wonderful thing to see in a human. So we sit in our seats and allow the ceremony of the plot to take place before us as it has so often done before.

Dev Patel’s existence as an international star makes this story possible. Ramanujan was a great man. But who would have heard of him had not Patel been alive just now?

It’s wonderful to hear about Ramanujan. To see his name for the first time.

To see Patel fortuitously frame and make his name a name. To type it out here, over and over as someone who is now never lost.

 

 

 

 

Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy

02 Jan

Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy — directed by Tomas Alfredson. Spy Suspense. There is a Russian spy secreted in British Intelligence, but which of the four suspects is it? 127 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

You gaze as into an aquarium, and past your eyes many strange things pass, among which one of four identical fish may be poisonous. One is riveted by the strange slow movement of things back and forth before one and by the subterranean places one visits. This particular aquarium stretches from London to Paris to Budapest to Istanbul. Among the hunters and protectors of the poisonous fish is the premier English actor Gary Oldman, playing a man of great reserve, watchfulness, and respect. The barest response. The civillest tone. And a pair of glasses that hide everything or nothing, screening a face as closed as a shell. He is supported by a cast, which is as exquisite and apt as he is, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds (although his character needs to be given more play), John Hurt, Kathy Burke, David Dencik, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbactch. As we move through this aqueous stillness, we are held by the deliberation of the scenes, places, tones, which float the vessel of suspense entirely, for we too know nothing. We too haven’t a clue. So we surrender to that ignorance of the truth upon which suspense is built, if we participate in what is being done to us visually. We wait for it to be announced, not to be fooled but to be revealed as co-agents of the crime. Clearly the director is master hand. Clearly the editor Dino Johnsâter and the photographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are master hands, as are the set designers and art directors and composer. The medium they deliver us into is the jell of suspense itself, so we are not vexed by red herrings but prompted by them. The piece is drawn from John le Carré’s novel set in the cold war, and the movie strikes into the very center of the dirty heart of war, whose mindset is a bureaucratic tenement. We have here the drab underpinnings of espionage, so dandified up in the James Bond movies of fond memory. The film is a gem, a masterpiece, not to be missed or dismissed. Brilliant on every level of execution and a very high entertainment indeed.

 

 
 
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