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TIFF 2019 Review: Radioactive

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Image courtesy of TIFF

Marie Curie deserves a biopic. She is the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different fields.  She was a pioneer, and at a time when men were the only ones recognized in the scientific community she proved that women were even more capable of discovering the unknown.  But, as well-intentioned as this production may be, Radioactive is not the film that Curie deserves.

Walking down a street in Paris in 1893, Marie (Rosamund Pike) literally runs into Pierre Currie (Sam Riley) while she is reading a book on microbiology.  When she happens to run into him at a dance performance he offers her the one thing she needs – laboratory space.  Marie is upfront – she doesn’t want a partnership, she wants her work to stand on its own.  Pierre, a forward thinker for his time and a believer in Marie’s ability, agrees.  Eventually, though her scientific equipment requirements open her to the possibilities of a partnership, and then eventually a romantic relationship.

Through hard manual work and precision, the two discover new elements, radium and polonium.  They also unlock knowledge about radioactivity, a finding that takes the scientific community by storm and changes the world forever, both in positive and negative manifestations.

Radioactivity is such an integral finding.  We use it to diagnose with x-rays, to shrink cancerous tumours.  However, the negatives are also explored in this film – the weaponization of radioactivity is well documented.  Hindsight is 20/20 and the Curie’s radioactive material was an unknown entity back at the time of its discovery.  The way the film bounces around to explore all of these various uses doesn’t work in its favour though.  Director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) uses dramatized clips of Chernobyl and Hiroshima interwoven into the narrative that feel out of place.  Focusing on a smaller block of time instead of trying to portray a century’s worth of information would have heeded better results.

Check out all of our TIFF coverageNot even Rosamund Pike can really save this film.  Her portrayal of Curie given the material is admirable.  She is a strong, independent woman at a time when they were shunned, however by film’s end her character is depicted as love-sick and immobilized, a complete turn from how she began and how her personality is depicted throughout.  Riley and Pike have reasonable chemistry, but their relationship’s cinematic climax still seems devoid of emotion.

Radioactive just does not really shine, despite the important subject matter.  The film’s score sounds as if it is out of a 1950’s sci-fi movie and some of the visuals are just distracting.  Marie Curie, as one of the most important scientists of all time, needs something more to fully depict her incredible contributions in a way that truly celebrates her genius.

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