RADIOACTIVE Remains Stable

Marjane Satrapi’s biopic of Madame Curie doesn’t stray far from formula

Since their infamous discovery, Marie and Pierre Curie have retained their place in science history while inspiring a movie or two. Radioactive is the latest effort, loosely based off of Lauren Redniss’ graphic biography of the same name. As in Redniss’ book, the new film — now streaming on Amazon Prime — follows the Curies through marriage, experimentation, discovery, and awards, while also hitting upon the ramifications of their work.

Rosamund Pike stars as Polish scientist Maria Skłodowska, who moves to France for her scientific studies and later marries fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley, Maleficent, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). She’s forthright in her demands for a laboratory and requests for better treatment. She’s reluctant to let her husband take full credit for the discoveries they made together. Pike doesn’t shy from playing such a complex character. Her performance is the strength of the film; it’s the construction and composition of the work where the flaws are far more visible.

Director Marjane Satrapi (Persopolis, Chicken with Plums) uses flashbacks within flashbacks (a confusing decision), frantic camerawork, and lighting that tends towards blurriness. While the inserts with 20th Century scenes involving radiation treatments, nuclear bombs and the breakdown of nuclear plants should add dimension to the overall work, they instead make Curie’s own story in Radioactive less cohesive and coherent. Anya Taylor-Joy is cast as Curie’s daughter, an illustrious scientist in her own right, but is barely given much to do except convince her mother to help French soldiers in WWI.

It’s unfortunate that the film falters so after a strong start, but eventually Radioactive loses its initial luster and becomes more formulaic in its storytelling style. Even with its inventive tendencies, the film turns out to be a typical biopic. And regardless of how well Pike takes on the character of Madame Curie or how invested the viewer is in her discovery and scientific work, I ended up wishing I had just read Redniss’ book again.

Radioactive is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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