Film Review: Radioactive (dir by Marjane Satrapi)


If you want to talk about the birth of the modern world, you have to talk about Marie Curie.

That’s the argument made by the biopic, Radioactive.  It’s a compelling argument and it’s very much correct.  Born in Poland and a citizen of France, Marie Curie was the 1st woman to win the Nobel Prize, the 1st person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize a second time, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two scientific fields.  She shared her first Nobel Prize (in Physics) with her husband, Pierre.  After Pierre’s tragic death, Marie won her second Nobel, this time for Chemistry.  Both her daughter and her son-in-law would go on to win Nobel Prizes of their own and the Curie family continues to produce notable scientists to this very day.

Marie Curie is best known for her pioneering research on radioactivity, a coin that she termed.  She developed techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes.  She discovered that radioactivity could be used to battle aggressive forms of cancer.  Without her research, there would be no nuclear power, no chemotherapy, no X-ray machines, and no atomic weaponry.  Marie Curie is one of the few people about whom it can legitimately be said that they changed the world.  Of course, Curie herself later died of a radiation poisoning.

Radioactive opens with Marie (played by Rosamund Pike) on the verge of death, before flashing back to show us her early life and she went from being an obscure scientist to becoming the world renowned Madame Curie.  We watch as she meets and falls in love with Pierre Curie (Sam Riley).  The film celebrates not only their love for each other but also takes a look at Marie’s struggle to escape from Pierre’s shadow.  Though she was acknowledged as his partner and won her first Nobel Prize with him, it’s not until Pierre is trampled death by a bunch of horses that Marie’s genius is truly acknowledged.  The scenes in which Marie expresses her frustration at being overshadowed by her husband are some of the best in the film, largely because the film doesn’t make the mistake of attempting to portray Pierre as intentionally stealing all of the glory for himself.  Instead, society just assumes that Pierre deserves most of the credit because …. well, Pierre’s a man and Marie’s a woman.

Unfortunately, Radioactive makes some perplexing narrative choices.  Throughout the film, there are random moments when we get a sudden flashfoward and see random people interacting with radioactivity.  For instance, we go to a hospital in the 1950s and we listen as a doctor explains that he’s going to use radioactivity to help a patient combat cancer.  Another scene features the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.  We see the nuclear tests in Los Alamos.  One moment, Marie is crying in the middle of the street.  The next minute, an ambulance drives past her, on the way to Chernobyl.  On the one hand, it’s easy to see what the film’s going for.  It’s showing us everything, good and bad, that will happen as a result of Marie Curie’s work.  It makes the very relevant argument that sometimes, in order to get something good (less pollution, treatments for cancer) you have to risk something bad, like the possibility of being vaporized by an atomic bomb.  But the flashforwards are handled so clumsily that they actually detract from the film.  When I watched the sequence taking place at the hospital, I found myself wondering if Marie Curie discovered bad acting before or after she discovered radioactivity.  This is probably one of the few instances where a biopic would have been helped by taking a more traditional approach to its material.

On the plus side, Radioactive does feature a very good performance from Rosamund Pike, who really deserves to be known for more than just killing Neil Patrick Harris in Gone Girl.  (Don’t spoiler alert me.  The film’s nearly 6 years old.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you weren’t ever going to.)  Radioactive is currently playing on Amazon Prime and you should definitely watch it if you’re planning on keeping radioactive isotopes in your desk at work.  Seriously, don’t do it.

Who? (1974, directed by Jack Gold)


Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), an American scientist who was previously captured by the Soviets in East Berlin and who was gravely injured in a terrible car crash, is finally returned to the Americans.  But is it really Dr. Martino?  Making identification difficult is that the Soviets had to totally rebuild Martino’s body after his car crash.  He appears to still have one of his original arms but he’s otherwise a cyborg.  He now has a metal head with an expressionless face.  Is he really Lucas Martino or is he a spy?  Even though his fingerprints check out, it’s possible that the real Martino’s arm could have been surgically grafted onto an imposter’s body.

It falls to agent Shawn Rogers (Elliot Gould) to determine whether or not this Martino is the real Martino.  Rogers interrogates the man claiming to be Martino but struggles to determine whether or not the man is who he claims to be.  Complicating matters is that, even if Martino is Martino, it’s possible that he could have possibly been brainwashed by Shawn’s Soviet counterpart, Col. Azarin (Trevor Howard).  As Shawn interrogates Martino, the film frequently shows Azarin asking Martino the exact same questions.  Is the film showing what Shawn thinks happened or is the film showing what actually happened?

Who? is based on a classic sci-fi novel by Algis Budrys.  It’s pretty faithful to its source material but it doesn’t really work as a film.  Some of that is because, despite the fact that Bova gives a good performance, the cyborg makeup is never really convincing.  Many potentially dramatic scenes are ruined by how silly Bova looks.  Trevor Howard is too British to be convincing as a sinister Russian and Elliott Gould is likewise miscast as Shawn Rogers.  Gould was always at his best playing quirky, counter-cultural characters.  Just think about his performance in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, where Gould was such a strange P.I. that it allowed Altman to deconstruct the entire genre.  In Who?, Gould is meant to be a much more conventional secret agent and he seems lost in the role.

Speaking of Robert Altman, he’s the type of director who probably could have worked wonders with Who?  I think Michael Crichton probably could have pulled off the film.  Maybe Mike Hodges, as well.  But Jack Gold was a much less adventurous director than any of these filmmakers and his direction in Who? is often too low-key and conventional.  I kept waiting for the film to really go for it and challenge my expectations and surprise me but it never did.  Who? doesn’t seem to know what type of film it wants to be.  Is it a spy thriller or a sci-fi film or an examination of what it means to be human?  It tries to be all three but just doesn’t succeed.

The idea behind the movie is a good one and Budrys’s book remains intriguing.  This is one that I wouldn’t mind seeing remade, perhaps by someone like Denis Villeneuve or Alex Garland.

Music Video of the Day: Fuel by Metallica (1997, directed by Wayne Isham)


Sometime, people like to drive too fast.  Sometimes, people like to live too fast.  For those special moments, there’s always Metallica.

This video was directed by Wayne Isham, who has directed the majority of Metallica’s videos, not to mention videos for just about everyone else in the music business as well.  The video was produced by Quentin Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart and the use of dramatic title cards certainly does fit in with Tarantino’s aesthetic.  The video feels like a tribute to the car chase films of the 60s and 70s.  It’s Death Proof before Death Proof.

Fuel was later covered by Avirl Lavigne.  Be careful bringing that up in certain company.

Enjoy!