The Man Who Knew Infinity
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and smoking.
A solid historical drama opposing racism, xenophobia and weak math skills. In 1913, the European scientific world discovered an unimaginable genius in the form of a poor, ill-educated Hindu clerk from India. Srinivasa Ramanujan’s understanding of mathematical hypotheses stunned the British academics who offered him a scholarship to study at Trinity College, Cambridge.
He overcame religious objections against making the journey, moving to a nation that long subjugated his own, studying under Godfrey Hardy and teaming with him in groundbreaking research. Having been in one character’s description “alone in his mind his whole life,” he became a recognized theorist without living equal.
Dev Patel plays the title part with admirable dignity as he deflects spoken and at times hardfisted prejudice, as well as England’s dreadful cooking and sickening weather. Jeremy Irons is sublime as the life-transforming scholar who respects Ramanujan’s gifts long before the rest of the world, even though he is a lifelong atheist and Ramanujan believed that his understanding of equations expressed the view of his God. There’s a first-class supporting cast, too, but the real standout is Patel, who is maturing impressively past his early days as a light romantic comedian.
⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving trafficking of children.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
Not since the mustache-twirling days of Snidely Whiplash have villains been as hambone beastly as the human traffickers in “Sold.” This shamelessly corny exposé on the evils of human trafficking plays like the love child of a Disney Channel kids’ drama and a public service announcement.
Pretty young Nepali girl Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia) is invited to come to Calcutta with a glamorous female visitor promising her steady work. Instead, she is deposited in the red light district, where she becomes both the pathos-generating victim and the heroine of a child’s fairy tale. Gillian Anderson and David Arquette drop by in bit parts as American do-gooders who wax sentimental about the plight of the abused, as if the situation needed clarifying. While Saikia has real presence, she, like all the cast, is obviously performing. In the Bollywood tradition, there are repeated detours into group dancing not integral to the plot. One sloppy, episodic scene after another, this is a socially serious message film without a well-developed dramatic moment in sight.
The Family Fang
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for some language.
Theater: Mall of America.
After keeping us in laughs for ages, Jason Bateman hopes to be a serious, significant film director. This downbeat household drama is not without grace notes — a minimalist visual style, a coherent approach to presenting actors. It’s also cursed with a tone of gloom and a contrived story bordering on absurdity.
Bateman and Nicole Kidman play a novelist and his sister, a celebrity actress. They grew up as featured players in performance art films secretly staged in public by their parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), who became art world stars through stunts like fake bank robberies. But then they grew up, and grew apart.
The clan reconnects when an accident hospitalizes the writer, then the parents vanish amid evidence suggesting they were kidnapped from a crime-ridden stretch of highway. Is the blood in their abandoned car proof that they were attacked or a grim make-believe gesture? There are hints of awkward comedy in the film’s surface structure, but underneath lies a swamp of jumbled chronology and storytelling dissonance. Still: Christopher Walken!