Radioactive – TIFF 2019 Review

The greatest threat to modern cinema isn’t streaming services, comic book flicks, or even trend-setting cinematic universes…

It’s the rise of the Oscar-bait biopic.

Taking the life of an influential figure, and minimizing their entire career into a cramped two hour-sub run time seems ludicrous. The existence of this genre to begin with, is simply meant to pander towards nostalgia driven elders, who crave for cinematic fantasies to re-live their idols of yesteryear. In 2019 alone, we have films based on Harriet Tubman, Judy Garland, Fred Rogers, and Bryan Stevenson; being all released around the same time, just months away from each other. The only time when a biopic can really change the perspective of a famous being, living or dead, is when a director who has previously proven, time and time again, that their filmography fits well with the subject matter of the “celebrity” being represented. Marielle Heller is a particularly great recent example of a director who takes risks with her depictions, without defaming or causing any sort of mockery against her subject(s). 

So let it be known that I was excited to see Radioactive, mainly due to the film’s director Marjane Satrapi. She’s previously created Persepolis, an excellent semi-autobiographical historical animated film that has garnered numerous accolades, including a major Cannes jury prize, and even an academy award nomination. Her work spans between different genres and topics, ranging from a politically-charged coming of age story to a straight up psychopathic re-telling of a schizophrenic man who relies on his devilish pets for life advice. Her work is bonkers in the best possible way, so hearing the news that Marjane would be adapting the life of Marie Curie onto the silver screen, seemed incredibly intriguing. Backed up by Amazon and Working Title, Radioactive was bound to get some attraction regardless. So what happened here? Why was this such an atomic mess? 

Nowhere in Radioactive is Satrapi’s voice heard. There’s no female lens, or even an intriguing perspective. Written by Jack Thorne, and adapted from a graphic novel of the same name; everything in this film is played safe. Even during some questionable dream sequences, where Curie is visiting future innovations of her newfound discovery of Polonium and Radium (Hiroshima Attack, Chernobyl, X-Ray technology, Cancer research); there’s no sense of innovation, or even a slight motivational feeling of the pursuit of new-found knowledge. It’s laughably executed, and painfully dull to sit through. 

Even Pike and Riley seem oddly bored with the project. Marie Curie is portrayed as a largely unlikable figure, with a petty, arrogant personality that rarely carries much weight. Just because her character is self-centered and introverted, doesn’t mean you can’t make her anymore human. Same goes for Pierre Curie, who feels like your typical male-support cliche, in a largely feminist-focused film. In fact, no one feels real in this film. The lack of authenticity, both in visual aesthetic and writing is staggeringly ironic. The poor computer generated imagery, the photogenic cinematography, the on-the-nose dialogue, are all offenders of a mass product of disappointment. 

Radioactive will be known from now on as the great stain on Satrapi’s filmography. Even Anya Taylor-Joy can’t even save this lifeless wreck of an adaptation, with her 15 minutes of screen-time! It’s a dreadful, plodding experience, where all your preconceptions on Curie’s work, is neither proven or even acknowledged with any sort of educational value. It’s a giant detour for Marjane and her wonderful cast and crew, where unfortunately, there’s no coming back from. The reactions are set, and things are about to get corrosive and a little explosive. Sometimes, two different materials don’t mix well together.

Radioactive closed this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release the film in 2020

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