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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Film Reviews - A Brilliant Young Mind Doesn't Master Math, but It Aces Life

"The minds of math and science geniuses have long fascinated the makers of crowd-pleasing narrative features, which is curious, as the complexities that fascinate those minds are antithetical to the feelings-first bounce of popular filmmaking. The movies, having settled into candied naturalism, already struggle to suggest interiority, even of characters whose drift of thought is simple — how, then, to lay bare for us the step-by-step breakthroughs of an autistic kid solving an equation?" writes Alan Scherstuhl.

Asa Butterfield as Nathan Ellis

In his superior British drama A Brilliant Young Mind, director Morgan Matthews (a documentarian making his fiction-film debut) endeavors to show us something of what synesthesia might feel like. Nathan (Hugo's Asa Butterfield), a teen math whiz, stares at wafer-flat street lights that haze and swim over restless, disorienting imagery, some really there before him and some edging in from elsewhere in the brain. You'll likely tense up, knowing that if the kid drifts off something awful might happen. That's about the only fresh technique the filmmakers invent — otherwise, they leave the mysteries of the brain to their actors, which is probably just as well. When Nathan stands before his math genius peers, grooving through a theoretical problem, Butterfield's performance is enough — lord knows we don't need the camera to spin around his head to tell us he's thinking.

A Brilliant Young Mind Official Trailer 1 (2015) - Asa Butterfield Movie HD

So, unlike its hero, A Brilliant Young Mind can't convincingly show its work. (Late in the movie, Nathan's coach says his equation-solving has "rare beauty" but is "unpredictable" and somewhat baroque, all of which comes as news.) But the kind of drama that movies are good at is very good here indeed. Butterfield plays Nathan as brusque and shy, incapable at first of opening up to the world or to the mother (Sally Hawkins) who lives in awed fear of him — she apologizes, relentlessly, any time she seems to have bugged him, and her voice frays into a ragged toughness as she orders Chinese food for him: The kid needs his meal's menu number to be a prime, and it must have exactly nine prawns — he connects with numbers, not people, especially since the death of his father some years before.

Source: New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie FilmsChannel (YouTube)