In a normal year, a movie like “Radioactive” starring Rosamund Pike, is the type of movie a studio would push for award consideration. It follows the true story of Marie Curie and her work of finding the new element of radium which lead her to win a nobel prize. A premise like that can really go in one of two possible ways. The first being an award contender like “A Beautiful Mind” and the latter being a rather safe and somewhat bland biopic in “The Theory of Everything.” Unfortunately, Radioactive falls in an acquired grey area between both of these films and it’s not necessarily a good thing.
What I’ll say off the bat is that the very least of these movie’s problems would be the performances from our lead. After coming off one of the best performances of the decade in 2014’s “Gone Girl," Pike delivers another nuanced turn here as Marie Curie. In some movies based on true people or events, the film forgets to portray the flaws in their real lives. What she is able to accomplish here is the show of a woman who was a true pioneer and prioritized her time into her work. This prioritization also shows the toll taken on her family including husband Pierre Curie (played by Sam Riley), who also helped in her work. The very dynamic of a flawed genius is also interesting to watch with an actress who knows how to play all those emotions.
Though even with a top notch performance, you need a strong story to carry around it. The case here creates a movie that would serve better as something watched in a science class. What director Marjane Satrapi pulls off quite well is paying respect to this period. The period detail is high quality and the science is easy to follow. The tricky thing is that in a 103-minute film, there is a lot of time spent showing the impact of this discovery. There are long sequences dissecting the process of radiation poisoning and the entire events of Chernobyl, which just come off as unnecessary. It not only takes away from Pike’s knockout performance, but severally slows down the pace. When you have a story this interesting it should make you want to uncover some pieces of history, not have them all explained to you.
The end result here is that too much content is trying to be put in a short timeframe. From a technical level, there’s a lot to admire from the period details, but the score is what really stands out. Following the tone of an electronic pulse, it makes for a unique detail that really nails the scientific feeling of discovering a breakthrough. The story of Curie is something that people should know and is sold well by Pike, I was just hoping for something more. When so much of her life and the real world implications of her discoveries take center stage, the movie loses the focus it desperately wants to achieve. I saw the film via screener link thanks to the kind folks at Amazon and was certainly never bored. I just wish there was a better sense of focus to this incredibly compelling story.
Watch a trailer for "Radioactive" here.