Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 8, 2016)
Dev Patel came to prominence as the lead in 2008’s breakout hit Slumdog Millionaire. Since that flick brought him fame, Patel has enjoyed a good career, but almost always as a supporting character.
This changes with 2016’s The Man Who Knew Infinity. Based on Robert Canigel’s 1991 biography, the film takes us to the early 20th century and introduces us to Srinivasa Ramanujan (Patel), a mathematical genius who lives in poverty in India.
Srinivasa’s intelligence proves too strong to be kept down, though, and he finds himself with an excellent opportunity. British math professor GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) invites Srinivasa to develop his talents at Trinity College in Cambridge. We follow Srinivasa’s path and the challenges that come along the way.
At the very least, a movie like Infinity seems well-meaning. It wants to educate the audience about an important figure little-known to the general public, and it does so in an unfailingly earnest, stolid manner.
All of which makes Infinity tough to criticize – but also difficult to embrace. A film such as this comes with few obvious flaws but as depicted here, Srinivasa’s tale fails to become more than generically inspirational.
Infinity touches all the usual bases. We get a protagonist who has to overcome long odds – poverty, racism, etc. – to succeed, and he gets the standard mentor who starts skeptical but eventually embraces the outsider. Obstacles overcome, accomplishments achieved, emotion generated – all what we anticipate from this kind of story.
Everything about Infinity seems perfectly professional. In addition to Patel and Irons, the film boasts a solid supporting cast with actors like Toby Jones and Stephen Fry. All do positive work, and the movie seems executed in a logical, concise manner.
So why does the end result leave me moderately cold? As much as I want to embrace Infinity, the movie just lacks real inspiration. It almost seems as though it came assembled by a committee, as it checks off boxes and fails to find the heart of its subject.
That essential absence of real emotion leaves Infinity as an average movie. On the surface, it should be a moving, involving effort, but it never prompts the viewer to strongly invest in the subject matter. This makes it a watchable film that doesn’t veer toward greatness.