Monday, November 17, 2014

A Reel Review: THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING





In theory, making a movie about a person’s life should be an easy task. If the person’s life story is well known or well documented, connecting the dots or taking the story from A to Z should practically take care of itself. The trouble in that approach is that if the story is too well known, the movie can wind up being perfunctory and boring. The trick to make it work and work well is to find the human element or the true heart of the story and to stick with it. Such is the task for director James Marsh as he tackles the life story of famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. 

Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmanyne) fights through a debilitating disease which eventually leaves him without movement and speech. With his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) at his side and despite his physical limitations, Hawking tirelessly works and publishes his theories on the origins of the universe…even when his marriage is tested. 

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING right away avoids any of the old clich├ęs of the standard biopic by starting the story during Hawking’s collegiate years. There is no monkeying around with scenes of him as a child having daddy issues or messing around with lost loves. Director James Marsh immediately gets down to business getting to the story; he right away gets to Hawking as a brilliant student who falls in love and excels mentally despite his body failing him. Just as Hawking was fascinated with the concept of time and the makeup of the universe, Marsh builds a fascination around his story which has a familiar, yet incredibly fresh feel. 

The science that Hawking grapples with is on full display when it needs to be. Hawking works hard to prove his theories on black holes, relativity, and singularity…but all that science by far does not bog down or derail the film. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING slowly transforms into a love story; this is all about Stephen and Jane and how they affect each other through the years…and there emerges the human element that is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. If this film were the Solar System, the scientific elements would be the planets…spinning around the radiant heart, or Sun. 

James Marsh does some exquisite work in bringing his film to life. Things are photographed beautifully, and his gentle touch in the intimate and not-so-intimate moments is perfect. Marsh also uses Hawking’s theories on the universe as metaphors for his character’s lives, and it works so well it blows the mind. 

For as great as the film is composed, it all seems small compared to the outstanding, stupefying, mesmerizing, tearjerking and stunning performance of Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. Redmayne is brilliant and charming during the early goings of the film even before his character’s body begins to fail…and when it does, he proves his worth was one of the best actors working today. Redmayne contorts his body in such ways that must have painful to do, and he somehow transmits his charm and charisma even when his speech gets worse. Felicity Jones matches Redmayne in stride, and the supporting cast of David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Charlie Cox, and Simon McBurney are all excellent. 

For those of us who are even slightly familiar with Stephen Hawking, the finale leads us right where we expected to be but is very much worthwhile because the trip was so full of heart. Much like the universe, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING has many levels working at once…and shines brighter than any star.

BOTTOM LINE: See it 




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