Film Review – The Professor and the Madman (2019)

Title – The Professor and the Madman (2019)

Director – Farhad Safinia (feature debut)

Cast – Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, Natalie Dormer, Jennifer Ehle, Ioan Gruffudd, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irvine, Stephen Dillane

Plot – The true story of Professor James Murray (Gibson) whose knowledge of words was paramount to the creation of the Oxford dictionary as was his friendship with mentally unstable Dr. William Chester Minor (Penn), whose brilliant yet unhinged mind helped contribute thousands of entries to the dictionary.

“This is about recording the evolution of meaning”

Review by Eddie on 23/12/2019

On paper a film that seems to scream prestige potential, The Professor and the Madman is a sadly lifeless dramatic biopic that’s myriad of problems behind the scenes has clearly ridden the film unsalvagable from its lifeless and generic final product.

A passion project for its star and producer Mel Gibson, who purchased the rights to Simon Winchester’s novel on which the film is based way back in 1999, only for him to struggle to bring the story to the big screen until now with the help of his Apocalypto writer Farhad Safinia (here going by the name of P.B. Sherman due to legal battles), which is unfortunate, as the wait has certainly not been worth it.

It’s nothing to do with Gibson as such, whose as good as his been over the last decade or so as real life Oxford dictionary master James Murray, but despite a sizable budget, a formidable cast and the amazing story of how the most well-known dictionary of all time came to be, Madman wastes every single tool at its disposable along its journey to shine a light on Murray’s trials and those of Sean Penn’s murderous and clearly insane war veteran Dr. William Chester Minor.

The film is nothing more than a series of boxes being ticked off, told with little heart, care or imagination and where fault is to be pinpointed is hard to do as Safinia himself and Gibson disowned the project well before final completion in a bitter feud with its financiers, who ended up taking matters into their own hands and finalising the end product and extra filming courtesy of Todd Komarnicki, in what’s a film that was abandoned by its heart and soul.

Not many films end up achieving much good when these type of unfortunate circumstances and bickering’s take place and while elements of the lethargic offering lay mostly at the feet of this issue, its also no excuse for its extremely tame and care free delving into of the dictionary’s birth and the friendship that sprung up between Murray and Minor.

Completely overplayed by a mumbling, jumbling Sean Penn (who has been out of form for years now), Minor is tough character to portray no doubt but as our decade spanning narrative takes us along for the journey these two men took, by the end of it we end up feeling just as cold as we do when we first meet these men as Safinia and Komarnicki fail to create any spark in the editing suite or in the filming of this material that makes a tour hour run time seem like an endless slog.

So much so that not even the likes of supports such as Natalie Dormer, Ioan Gruffudd, Steve Coogan or Jennifer Ehle can add any extra spice to a film that so clearly could’ve been but unfortunately isn’t, a missed opportunity to shine a light on an intriguing friendship centred around an important moment in our human history.

Final Say –

Facing an uphill battle to even have seen the light of day due to behind the scenes raucous, The Professor and the Madman would’ve been served better to remain heard of but never seen as this dull and uninviting drama fails to ignite in any way, shape or form despite its loaded material.

1 luscious beard out of 5

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