Those who loved Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning turn as genius Stephen Hawking in 2014’s The Theory Of Everything are likely to spark to a similar-feeling new movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity. This English period piece set in pre-war 1914 stars Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as a poor young Indian man with a unique talent for numbers. In fact, he is a mathematical genius who can only explain that his propensity for solving problems and equations comes from God.
It is all based on the true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical whiz whose talent took him from his modest upbringing in India all the way to Trinity College at Cambridge, where he was mentored by G.W. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). Despite racism and non-believers, this man was, with the help of Hardy, able to overcome obstacles and show his unique gift to the world. As I say in my video review above, the film, written and directed by Matt Brown, is heavy on numbers. But ultimately it is about the relationship between these two as Hardy tried to overcome skeptics and help Ramanujan reach his full potential over the course of five years in which their paths crossed. The results changed mathematics forever — just as Hawking’s theories did in his world.
It is natural to compare the two films as they both appeal to sophisticated moviegoers who like this kind of handsome, refined but inspiring filmmaking. Also, just as in Theory, there is a love interest for Ramanujan with the young bride (Devika Bhise) he leaves behind in India as he pursues this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when a letter he wrote is actually answered by Hardy. The romantic side of things however plays second fiddle to the dynamic between Hardy and his discovery. There is also a first-rate supporting cast including such reliable actors as Toby Jones, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Northam.
But this film fully belongs to Patel and Irons, who have two of the best roles in their careers. Patel, in fact, fully validates the promise he first showed in Slumdog Millionaire with a full-blown leading role here where he also convincingly makes us believe he really IS this math genius — no easy trick since Brown does not shy away from the technical aspects of the story. Patel really immerses himself in numbers in a big way. It is not always easy to comprehend for the viewer as the information on display is very dense — for someone like me who can barely add two plus two, it’s a challenge — but ultimately these actors make it human enough that the mathematics of it all are digestible.
Irons, recently seen as Alfred in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, gets a much juicier role here and is richly impressive. In fact I would say it is his film — a reminder of what a great talent this Oscar winner (Reversal Of Fortune) really is. Brown, Jon Katz, Edward R. Pressman, Sofia Sondervan, Joe Thomas and Jim Young produced amidst a larger number of execs who also have producer somewhere in their credited title on this film. It takes a village, apparently.
IFC Films, which picked up The Man Who Knew Infinity after its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, pushes it out into limited release Friday. Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.