14 April 2016 Gazette 21
The Man Who Knew Infinity: film on Srinivasa Ramanujan underwhelms
Bio doesn’t add up to an inspiring tale of greatness AS ANY school teacher will tell you, bringing maths to the masses has never been an easy thing, but cinema has produced some valiant attempts over recent years. Back in 2001, A Beautiful Mind chronicled the rise and mental collapse of John Nash, and in 2014 Oscar winners The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything, successfully brought to life the individuals behind the integers. In much the same vein, The Man Who Knew Infinity aims to give the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan a big-screen treatment, and it certainly has some of the components of a Hollywood story. Ramanujan may be an obscure figure to the general public, but among mathematicians he is recognised as a genius. Director Matt Brown starts Ramanujan’s (Dev Patel) story as an unemployed youth in Madras in the early years of the 20th century, scrawling lengthy equations in chalk on temple floors, setting the tone for the connection between the mathematical and the divine that seems a key component to Ramanujan’s work.
Struggling to find a job in Madras, Ramanujan knows that he has an exceptional talent for numbers and just needs to find somebody in a position of power to recognise it. The answer comes when a new employer, Sir Francis Spring (a throwaway cameo by Stephen Fry), recommends Ramanujan to some of the old boys in Cambridge. And so we begin a tale of two worlds, as Ramanujan begins a correspondence with the celebrated English mathematician G H Hardy (Jeremy Irons). For the most part, Matt Brown does a solid job in contrasting the dusty, convivial and spiritually literate life of people in Madras, with the emotionally stunted life of Cambridge – where the lawns may be green and lush, but nobody dares to step on the grass. As the First World
War grows on the horizon, Cambridge remains ensconced in a sense of imperial superiority, and much of the plot revolves around Ramanujan’s struggles to be academically and personally accepted within the culture he has found himself thrust into. With Hardy in the role of a harsh but benevolent taskmaster, Ramanujan attempts to enculturate himself and get his work published. There are a lot of story elements in here that should make The Man Who Knew Infinity a hit, but it quickly becomes evident that something essential is missing from this equation. As well as directing, Matt Brown takes the role of screenwriter – a task that he unfortunately performs less adequately. For the most part, The Man Who Knew Infinity unfolds without a hint of textual nuance, with conversations playing out functionally, rather than organically. And so, a scene in which Hardy eventually breaks Ramanujan’s spirit, forcing him to conform to Cambridge standards, features the
the huntsman Snow thank you ...
AS A sequel that nobody asked for, The Huntsman – Winter’s War (Cert 12A, 117mins) is the prequel to 2012’s visually lovely (but dull as dishwater) Snow White and The Huntsman. Charlize Theron is once again as cool as ice, while Emily Blunt and Chris Hemsworth gamely give their best – but it’s a film that’s not Grimm enough, or fairy engaging, making it a huntsman to avoid.
Disney’s roaring success
Although The Man Who Knew Infinity ticks all the right, if predictable, boxes in the “struggling maths genius” category, it never soars beyond the sum of its parts
‘For a film about numbers, it spends a lot of time spelling things out, and the end result does not make for great cinema ... Just short of two hours, the stodgy pacing of The Man Who Knew Infinity makes it feel a lot longer’
superfluous dialogue: “I see you’ve finally broken his spirit”. For a film about numbers, it spends a lot of time spelling things out, and the end result does not make for great cinema. Equally superf lu-
ous is the storyline of Ramanujan’s wife and mother, who are cooped up together, and at odds with one another back in Madras. Just short of two hours, the stodgy pacing of The Man Who Knew Infinity makes it feel a lot
longer. Neither Patel nor Irons, upon whose shoulders the film rests, perform at the top of their game and the end result is a story that feels like it has much more to offer. An attempt to shoehorn the source material into a Hollywood format leaves us consistently skimming the surface – save a single slide at the end, there is really no insight into the significance that any of Ramanujan’s work had on the field of mathematics. An east meets west adventure that sadly stays too formulaic. Verdict: 5/10
DISNEY have added yet another impressive film to their CG roster with Zootropolis (Cert PG, 108 mins), which takes a familiar cop trope – a fresh rookie trying to make their mark and solve a tough case, while teaming up with an unlikely ally – but makes something new. Warm-hearted, likeable performances add to the great design, making it a treat for audiences.
midnight special Make time for this one
WHILE we’ve all seen oddcouple/on-the-run films before, Midnight Special (Cert 12A, 112 mins) feels like something fresh, yet timeless. A protective father goes on the run with his young boy, who has special powers, while danger follows close behind. It’s a low-key film with a muted tone, yet some lovely performances, and its direction, create what could be a cult classic.