A Familiar Journey Worth Taking Again
Every film going season seems to bring a new biopic along with it. Last year we had Saving Mr. Banks. The year before that, The Iron Lady. The year before that, Moneyball. An endless source of critical acclaim and controversy, biopics are a quick road to nomination-ville for everybody involved. This year’s high profile entry into the genre is The Theory of Everything, a sharp yet familiar feeling examination into the life and accomplishments of Stephen Hawking. While it feels oddly similar to a certain Best Picture winning movie about a flawed genius, a standout performance by Eddie Redmayne separates it just enough to warrant a watch.
Redmayne (Les Miserables, My Week With Marilyn) plays the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking. Starting with his days as a bright eyed Cambridge student, Theory unflinchingly tracks Hawking’s physical challenges and personal triumphs. In the lead, Redmayne is exceptional as both the young and old scientist. Nailing both the physical limitations and spirit of Hawking, Redmayne disappears into the character. What could have been a simple impersonation becomes deeper and more authentic in Redmayne’s skilled hands.
While they’re no Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connolly from A Beautiful Mind (yes, that’s the other genius movie), Redmayne connects beautifully with co-star Felicity Jones (Like Crazy). As his devoted wife and caregiver, Jones’ conflict between duty and freedom is the emotional drive of an interesting character. Even in the twisting third act, she’s a solid anchor for Redmayne to work against.
Trouble is, this is all familiar territory. Basically Ron Howard’s Oscar winner without the schizophrenia, Theory feels like a re-hash. Director James Marsh (Man on Wire) peppers the film with cinematic flourishes and the occasional incredible shot, but the overall vibe feels fifteen years old. While there’s literally nothing the screenwriter could have done to avoid this (hence it not killing the overall score) watching it made me feel like it was 2001 all over again.
That doesn’t stop Theory from being a very well-crafted movie. The script is lively, engaging and does a nice job of giving our characters room to work. The cinematography features some standout shots and the overall direction is tightly focused on Hawking’s struggles and successes. Punches aren’t pulled either, especially when the uncomfortable subject of his separation is handled. It all feels honest and true to the real events.
Simply put, The Theory of Everything is a movie worth seeing. With a pair of sensational performances, a dynamite script and a tough to watch yet touching story, Everything earns its Oscar buzz. We may have been down this road before but stories of exceptional people doing exceptional things never grow stale. A lovely bit of December cinema.
Score: 8 out of 10