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‘Radioactive’ suffers from flimsy storytelling, but sports a powerful lead

‘Radioactive’ suffers from flimsy storytelling, but sports a powerful lead

‘Radioactive’ suffers from flimsy storytelling, but sports a powerful lead
July 29
21:35 2020

In the late 1800s, Polish-born Marie Curie discovered a new element alongside her scientist husband in Paris. The element, radium, revolutionized science and lead to some of the greatest (and most tragic) scientific events in history. As a female scientist in the 19th century working in a male-dominated field, and discovering one of the most dangerous and devastating elements, no less, Marie’s road to the history books was no cake walk. In “Radioactive,” a 2019 film which recently became available in the U.S. on Amazon, Marie’s personal and professional life are explored, and while the film itself struggles with pacing and structure, its leading lady offers a captivating performance.

This leading lady is Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl” and “A Private War.” She’s the best part of the movie, and without her it wouldn’t be worth watching. Her nuances in the twitch of the mouth or an eyebrow, the way her eyes dart around and the inflection of her voice add up to a mesmerizing performance. She perfectly balances Marie’s flaws — being a bit arrogant and crass at times — with her more compelling attributes. There’s not really a ton of room for her to be happy here, but she’s stunning nonetheless in her despondent states. Her crying about halfway through the movie is devastating, almost reminiscent of the traumatic wails from Toni Collette in “Hereditary” and Florence Pugh in “Midsommar.”

Unfortunately, her acting doesn’t entirely redeem the movie. The film mainly struggles with structure, failing to string scenes together in a convincing manner. This leads to a flimsy and at times convoluted plotline. Many of the individual scenes hold up really well on their own — the dialogue is sharp, and Pike’s acting does wonders at elevating the scene. The music and costumes are really beautiful, too. But when looking at the big picture, the film just doesn’t flow together well. Because of this, the more personal scenes, like those between Marie and her husband Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) really excel, while the scientific narrative that follows real-life Marie’s work slips through the cracks.

A prime example of this is the fight between Marie and Pierre after he returns home from Sweden, where he delivered a speech for their Nobel Prize-nominated work (for which only his name was included, largely because Marie was a woman). Both actors really shine here, and the dialogue is quite powerful. While the scene on its own holds up, it doesn’t quite make sense in the full context of the movie, considering the scene literally right before it showed Pierre saying how he would fight to get her name on the nomination, which was met with a smile from Marie. And then the fight scene shows Marie upset he went to Sweden in the first place and saying how her contributions weren’t being acknowledged. So how did we get from point A to point B? I’m not really sure, and unfortunately that’s a reoccurring issue throughout the film. What we end up with is 109 minutes of scenes that read more like a series of vignettes than an actual flowing storyline. These weak transitions make it difficult to follow the scientific progress Marie and Pierre make.

There’s also a lot of weird cutaways that take you out of the film. They’re meant to show the effects of Marie’s discoveries on the history of mankind, so we see a child being treated for cancer with radiology, a bomb exploding on a remote site in Nevada, and then the darker side of radium’s history with the booming of Hiroshima during World War II and the explosion in Chernobyl. While I get that the film was trying to show the larger context and repercussions of radium, most of it just felt clunky. The WWII cutaway was the only one that somewhat fit into the main narrative of the story, so it seemed like the others were just thrown in arbitrarily.

So, what’s my final verdict? I wouldn’t recommend putting “Radioactive” near the top of your watchlist. But it’s still not a bad watch, as Pike’s performance and her scenes with Riley really help pull the film together. If you’re a fan of acting as a craft or have a keen interest in science, you’ll likely enjoy it. But if you’re seeking out films with an incredibly well-done storyline, you might want to save this for when you don’t have anything else to watch.

Final rating: 2.75/5

Featured image: Courtesy StudioCanal

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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