Review by Sean Boelman
Though the most incredible subjects often make for great stories, it can be easy for a filmmaker to lose track of what makes the person whose life they are depicting so extraordinary. Marjane Satrapi’s new movie Radioactive has some great moments, but is too often held back by biopic conventions to live up to its inspiration’s image.
The film tells the story Marie Curie, a pioneering scientist whose work in discovering radioactivity would come to change the world. What is perhaps both the movie’s biggest strength and weakness is that it is made in a way to be palatable to most audiences. While the elimination of in-depth scientific material will make the film more accessible, it also causes it to feel rather safe and bland.
A significant part of the issue with the script is that it condenses time in an extreme way. Scientific discoveries typically don’t happen overnight, yet the narrative tries to cram all of her work into a biopic under two hours long. Since the events take place over a period of almost half a decade, it feels quite rushed.
There is obviously some merit in the movie as an exploration of a groundbreaking woman busting through barriers in a male-dominated field, but this commentary too often comes across as shallow and insignificant. As a result, the film feels like a generic story about fighting the status quo when Curie’s story is anything but typical.
Also problematic is that the movie focuses a bit too heavily on the relationship between Curie and her husband than Curie’s own achievements. While the portion of her life and career that she shared with Pierre is undeniably important, there is no good reason for the film to turn into a romantic drama, which it does at more than one point.
Rosamund Pike is a talented actress, but at this point, she seems to be getting typecast as the lead in supposedly powerful awards bait biopics. While her performance isn’t bad, it’s rather one-note and has some moments that lean too heavily into melodrama. The standout here is Sam Riley, whose performance as Pierre Curie has the only bit of subtlety to be found in the movie. Anya Taylor-Joy also has a small supporting role, but is underused.
That said, the film is an interesting watch thanks to the unorthodox visual style that Satrapi brings to the table. Since the visual ideas that Satrapi offers don’t always mesh with the themes of the script, it can feel a bit busy at times, but this also lends it a sense of energy that pushes the movie along.
Radioactive is a messy and conventional film, and inarguably not what Marie Curie deserves. Still, the script is competent if average and Marjane Satrapi is a great filmmaker, saving it from the obscurity to which it would otherwise be destined.
Radioactive streams on Amazon Prime beginning July 24.