(2020) (Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A female scientist of the late 19th century discovers two new elements, comes up with the theory of radioactivity, and must contend with the fallout of that and other moments of life.
It's 1893 and Marie Sklodowska (ROSAMUND PIKE) is a Polish scientist living and working in Paris, but not getting any respect from her male colleagues. In need of a stable place to conduct her experiments, she agrees to a business arrangement with fellow scientist Pierre Curie (SAM RILEY) who runs a lab populated by several other scientists, including Paul Langevin (ANEURIN BARNARD).
Combining their work, Marie comes up with the theory of radioactivity while discovering two new elements, polonium and radium, and the two scientists develop chemistry for one another, marry and have kids. But their continued exposure to radiation along with a family tragedy and a later public scandal threaten to undermine Marie's work and her legacy of future breakthroughs based on that.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Part of the fun of reviewing movies is being afforded the opportunity to learn something new, be that in the film in question itself, or from extraneous material associated with that. For instance, while I knew of Polish-French scientist Marie Curie and her groundbreaking work in the field of physics and particularly radioactivity, I was unaware of something that will linger long after she's forgotten by most.
And that would be her personal effects -- clothing, furniture and so on, as well as her lab notes -- that due to exposure to radium 226 will be dangerous for the next 1,500 years or so, what with that being the half-life of that element from back in her day. Heck, even her remains -- she died in 1934 from radiation-induced anemia -- in her lead-lined coffin are still radioactive.
Yes, she literally gave her life for her work, and part of her tale is told in the appropriately titled "Radioactive." In this period drama, Rosamund Pike plays Curie as a fiercely independent scientist who was ahead of her time and suffered from not having her work taken seriously -- at least at first -- simply due to her gender.
The one man who did -- who ended up as her research and then life partner -- was Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) who, upon first meeting Marie, tells her that he has an instinct about her. She points out that such gut feelings are not scientific, but he's already smitten with her mind and they team up to further explore and extrapolate from her current work and findings.
As directed by Marjane Satrapi who works from Jack Thorne's adaptation of Lauren Redniss' novel, "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout," the film suffers a bit from the usual biopic trappings in that there's too much material to fit into the 110-minute timeframe.
The parts that didn't work for me -- simply because they take the viewer out of the proceedings and are a bit too obvious in terms of messaging -- are those that flash-forward decades to show the aftermath of the Curies' work. One obviously deals with the negative use of the power they helped unleash, that being the A-bomb attack on Hiroshima (another later one shows an H-bomb obliterating a fake suburban town, complete with melt-able mannequins).
There's also a scene set during the meltdown in Chernobyl, but a more optimistic one -- although we don't know the outcome -- is treating a '50s era child's cancer with radiation. I get what Satrapi is trying to accomplish, but it feels awkward and a bit preachy in regard to the period tale that's at hand. Besides, we already see the main characters having to deal with the literal and figurative fall-out of their work in terms of their health, as well as other unrelated material that has Curie's name dragged through the mud.
Thankfully, Pike's strong performance mitigates some but not all of those issues, and the actress more than ably portrays the real-life woman's passions and frustrations. Even so, it still feels like a lot of material that could have been (or perhaps was) used to further develop and examine her character (and what she faced professionally and personally) was left on the table or the editing booth floor.
Due to that, I ultimately learned more about the woman by researching her than I did by watching the film. That's certainly a common issue regarding any biopic, but I just wish I felt as glowingly about the project as what's still being emitted from her personal effects. "Radioactive" rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed July 17, 2020 / Posted July 24, 2020
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