Published on May 13th, 2016 | by Ian M. Woodington0
The Man Who Knew Infinity
In 1914, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) traveled from his poverty-stricken existence in Madras, India to Trinity College, Cambridge in the hope that he would have his theories published and be recognized for the mathematical genius he was. While there, despite facing racism, hostility and severe illness, he formed an important relationship with G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) that would lead to breakthroughs in mathematics that are still relevant today.
It would be easy to prattle on about the tremendous talent onscreen in The Man Who Knew Infinity and with a supporting cast that features some of Britain’s best; we get exactly what we’d expect from the likes of Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones and Kevin McNally. All at the top of their game, they serve the story well with nuanced and well-rounded performances, and I’m certainly not going to take anything away from the exceptional jobs they’ve all done here. All the praise this film deserves however, needs to be directed at Dev Patel. In his role as Ramanujan, he’s completely stepped out of the shadow of his big-screen debut in Slumdog Millionaire and has proved his worth as a leading man capable of carrying the weight of an entire feature. Distancing himself also from the lovable, bumbling hotel owner in The Best Exotic Marigold movies, with Ramanujan he is allowed the room to display an incredible range, from quiet intensity to outspoken, unbridled passion and determination. Kudos also to the writers for not going The Big Short route (e.g. talking down to the uninitiated with ridiculous cutaways), but by using simple logic and examples to help convey complex information relevant to the plot.
For the performances alone, this is a solid entry in the biopic genre, but structurally speaking, it’s the editing that lets the film down. This very easily could have emerged as the next A Beautiful Mind, but between a bloated first act, a middling and wandering second act and a truncated final third, The Man Who Knew Infinity falls just short of greatness. Not only is no attention paid to Ramanujan’s achievements as a child, but too much time is given to details and subplots that are arguably inconsequential to the main narrative. This is especially evident in the inclusion of Bertrand Russell (who lived such a rich and fascinating life himself, it would take several films to do that story justice) and his being here feels like just a hollow excuse to include a cameo from another figure of historical importance. The biggest disservice though comes with the ending where we are denied a much needed catharsis and are left to suffer through a slap-dash, halfhearted montage. A restructuring from a more seasoned hand would have undoubtedly led to stronger word-of-mouth and perhaps a wider release. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is a case of “too many cooks” as the film has a staggering 43 credited producers. I get that independent features can be forced to source their funding from many places, but you can’t tell me that with all those opinions flying about that some of the original intent didn’t get lost in the noise.
As an aside, what Stephen Fry is doing here is beyond me. He’s given two scenes with perhaps a half a dozen lines, leaving his incomparable persona entirely wasted on a completely throwaway character. It’s a pity he wasn’t given a meatier role as one of Ramanujan’s antagonists.
3 out of 5