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De Niro’s new black comedy a hit

Few biopics enjoy the luxury of exploring subjects who can legitimately lay claim to having changed the world.Therefore Radioactive instantly finds itself a step ahead of the pack simply by virtue of getting to tell the remarkable life story of pioneering scientist Marie Curie.Not only was Madame Curie (played convincingly at varying ages by Rosamund…

Few biopics enjoy the luxury of exploring subjects who can legitimately lay claim to having changed the world.

Therefore Radioactive instantly finds itself a step ahead of the pack simply by virtue of getting to tell the remarkable life story of pioneering scientist Marie Curie.

Not only was Madame Curie (played convincingly at varying ages by Rosamund Pike) the first woman to win the coveted Nobel prize. She was also the first person to bag two of them.

Often in collaboration with her equally renowned husband Pierre (Sam Riley), Marie’s discovery of radium and polonium (and ongoing study of the properties) carried dramatic implications for the whole planet as the 20th century took shape.

Not just for how her work changed a way of life for so many, but also for shifting the weight of history for all time.

The invention of the X-ray machine and the advent of chemotherapy as the pre-eminent cancer treatment can be traced back to Curie’s microscope-peering endeavours.

But so too can the dropping of atomic bombs, the recurrence of nuclear meltdowns and a climate of fear which has only intensified over time.

If this sounds like some hefty intellectual baggage for a movie of this type to be carrying, you are absolutely right.

While Radioactive often carries itself as a rather dainty costume drama, it does have some heavier concerns concealed beneath its frilled bonnets and bustle skirts.

On occasion, this can make the vibe on-screen come off as a touch dour. So the onus falls on Rosamund Pike to personalise Marie Curie’s singular journey as a trailblazer for both her imposing field of research and her widely oppressed gender.

It must be said that Pike is exceptionally well-cast in the role, as is Sam Riley in a relatively drab and thankless part.

The two leads wage a running battle against a marble-mouthed script which often overdoes on-the-spot explaining of what is going on. That they eventually come out the victors speak volumes for their efforts.

Overall, this well-intentioned production earns a more-than-honourable pass mark, if only for spotlighting Marie Curie’s most important achievements, and also ensuring her name remains linked to them.

Director: Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis)

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Ethan Hawke.

Rating: ***

Not afraid to get experimental as anything

The Comeback Trail (M)

An unorthodox combination of madcap farce, showbiz satire and black comedy, The Comeback Trail is definitely not going to accommodate all tastes.

However, one thing that all viewers will agree on is that Robert De Niro has not been this amusing in a humorous setting for many years.

(I should also mention there could be little hope of this trend continuing. De Niro’s next outing, The War With Grandpa, comes out in December. It looks as if it is the kind of comedy that is only second to COVID-19 in its ability to empty a cinema.)

Now of course, De Niro’s performance in The Comeback Trail is nowhere near in the same league as his dignified return to form in 2019’s The Irishman.

Nevertheless, Bob is making a real effort here, and the work eventually pays off quite well.

He plays Max Barber, a 1970s movie producer with a dubious reputation to uphold —– his most recent release was a box-office bomb about nuns with machine guns — and a stack of money owed to notorious gangster Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman).

Max’s only way out of debt is a dicey insurance scam, in which he requires the ageing star of his next production to die during filming to trigger a multimillion-dollar payout.

Just one problem: Max’s leading man, alcoholic ex-cowboy star Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones), is as indestructible as a Marvel superhero.

Duke had been discovered by Max in an old folks’ home for retired actors. The fact Duke was not exactly shy about his life expectancy made him the logical candidate for a swift on-set death.

But wouldn’t you just know it? The magic of making a movie once more just keeps giving the old coot one new lease of life after another.

A bit corny at times, but there is always some good stuff just around the corner throughout.

Director: George Gallo (Double Take)

Starring: Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman, Zach Braff.

Rating: ***

Lights! Camera! Traction!

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