Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - The Theory Of Everything

Directed by: James Marsh

Produced by: Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Lisa Bruce
Anthony McCarten

Screenplay by: Anthony McCarten

Based on: Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen
by Jane Wilde Hawking

Starring: Eddie Redmayne
Felicity Jones
Charlie Cox
Emily Watson
Simon McBurney
David Thewlis
Christian McKay
Maxine Peake

Music by: Johann Johannsson

Cinematography by: Benoit Delhomme

Editing by: Jinx Godfrey

Studio: Working Title Films

Distributed by: Focus Features
Universal Pictures
Toho Towa

Release date(s): September 7, 2014 (TIFF)
November 26, 2014 (United States)
January 1, 2015 (United Kingdom)
March 10, 2015 (Japan)

Running time: 123 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $15 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $91.2 million

The Theory Of Everything, adapted by producer-screenwriter Anthony McCarten from the memoir Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking, stars Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane, with the plot following them over the course of their relationship together, Hawking caught between wrestling his genius in theoretical physical with motor neuron disease and Jane as his wife, carer and mother of their three children. Directed by James Marsh, best known for his documentaries Man On Wire and Project Nim (he alternates between fictional and documentary features), the film has been widely tipped for awards season success, most specifically Eddie Redmayne, whose win at the Golden Globes and other notables have arguably made him the number two favourite for Best Actor at the Academy Awards to Michael Keaton (sorry Cumberbatch, you were my hand-picked favourite, but it ain't looking like it's gonna be your year, buddy!). So, on the basis of that, let's get cracking!

To start off the good, it's fronted by two strong central performances. Eddie Redmayne is good in the part of Hawking. Watching his physical deterioration and the level of subtle detail that Redmayne puts into it is admirable in it's own right. However, I do have to say, without sounding crass, it's more a clear case of an 'acting' role, one full of gimmicks upon which an actor can rely. I thought personally that Felicity Jones was the real star of this film. Not that it was easy for Redmayne to do all that, but Jones didn't have as many things to draw upon and instead had to convey all of her emotions through her natural abilities. In what could have been a typical, 'woman's' part of playing the wife to a troubled genius, Jones instead manages to anchor the film, grounding it with a sensible level of credibility. Without her performance as the heart and soul of what everyone is trying to get at with this picture, it could have been a lot worse, and it's the highlight of the whole production. The film also features a very good score by Johann Johannsson, a producer whose work as film composer has become prominent in the past year or so, with my first awareness of his work on last year's Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve's sorely overlooking thriller. Johannsson's score screams 'classical film compositions' but fails to enter the typical pitfalls associated with them, with his minimalist influence coming across in creating a pace that seamlessly from scene to scene. His compositions are often made up of recurring motifs and subtly begin from a starting point of one instrument, gradually building them up with layers of additional instrumentation. The final thing I'd like to point out in it's favour is the elegantly lit photography by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme. Delhomme has a distinctive look that he gives to each of the films he works, very carefully ensuring that what he is shooting walks the fine line of being picaresque and not distracting the audience's attention from the drama. As such, particularly with his use of natural lighting, he manages to give The Theory Of Everything a look that is both familiar and a sort of hyper-reality, and this is a very hard thing to do, but he succeeds.

Now, while there were things I liked about The Theory Of Everything, and indeed on the basis of its strengths I'd go say for as to say it's a good movie. However, it is neither a great or a very good movie, and teeters rather too close towards averageness and mediocrity for comfort, both from the standpoint of the film as individual piece of art and from a viewer's standpoint. The central problems I think lies in the screenplay of Anthony McCarten. In many ways, McCarten is the real auteur of The Theory Of Everything, and not to be rude about screenwriters, but this is a case I feel of a screenwriter having too much power over the film. Robert Towne was regularly outraged at Roman Polanski for the decisions he made while making Chinatown, but let's face it, great as that screenplay is, Chinatown wouldn't have been a masterpiece without Polanski at the helm. McCarten's screenplay however, unlike Towne's, is a troublesome bit of a work. It may be based on a story unique to the Hawkings, but the way McCarten tells it, from the basic plot structure and right down to individual bits of dialogue, has the impressions of many films we have seen do it better before. Furthermore, any film that needs to tell us how to feel, as in "oh look, a harrowing scene!," showing things like Hawking struggle up a staircase while his infant son watches behind a stair-gate, just screams a work that is trying to hard. McCarten needed a better mediator to bring out the best in him and this unquestionably fascinating story, which brings me to my other issue, which is that James Marsh I feel doesn't push enough for a stronger cinematic voice. Although he's not an explicit auteur, it's the first time I've sat down and watched one of Marsh's films and felt that this was the work of a journeyman, and not in a good way. I've said before, Takashi Miike has made a career of being a journeyman, but here it feels like Marsh has just been picked out as a reliable hired hand to nurse this awards filler flick to fruition.

The Theory Of Everything possesses a screenplay which is a troublesome bit of work, which, while based on a story unique to the Hawkings, but is told in a most unoriginal manner that has the impressions of a glut of films which we have seen do the whole "oh look, harrowing!" routine better. Also, director James Marsh doesn't establish himself as enough of a mediator between Anthony McCarten's screenplay and the final product. That said, despite these doubtless flaws (which more or less highlight the fact that it's mostly undeserving of the major awards nominations), it remains a good film. I think the primary reason for that is because when it comes to the acting, music and cinematography, there remains a semblance of legitimate sincerity. Eddie Redmayne is good, and while he may have the 'bigger' part, it's Felicity Jones who stands out and anchors the film with a real sense of credibility. I've admired her since I first saw her in 2010's Cemetery Junction, and on the basis of this great performance, it's obvious she deserves good parts for the next half-decade. It also boasts a great score from Johann Johannsson and elegantly lit photography from DP Benoit Delhomme. It may not be the great film it's cracked up to be, but it's a good film worth one watch nevertheless.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright

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