It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Here is the sad and frustrating irony of “The Theory of Everything”: it’s a biopic about one of
the most brilliant people in the history of the planet, the renowned astrophysicist
Stephen Hawking – a man famous for thinking in boldly innovative ways – yet his
story is told in the safest and most conventional method imaginable.
This is ironic given the director: James Marsh, an Academy Award winner for the 2008 documentary “Man on Wire,” which was so thrilling and so clever in its narrative structure that it made you leave the theater feeling as if you’d actually witnessed Philippe Petit walking across a tightrope between the World Trade Center Towers. (You didn’t – the film features photographs and reenactments but no film footage of Petit pulling off his daredevil stunt. That’s how persuasive Marsh can be.)
Here, he’s made a strongly acted, handsomely crafted film that nonetheless feels bland and unsatisfying. It falls into the trap that so many biopics do: It hits all the key moments in the life of the author of “A Brief History of Time” and skims the surface of a complicated existence without digging deeper, without taking chances. Everyone involved does everything they should, and the result is just sort of … fine.
Of course, Hawking’s story is inspiring – the way he’s battled motor neuron disease over the past 50 years and defied the odds not only to survive, but thrive. And in playing Hawking, Eddie Redmayne more than rises to the challenge of portraying the man's gradual physical deterioration but also conveying the spark of mental acuity that has remained, and marked all of Hawking’s important work. Nothing the 32-year-old actor has done previously (“Les Miserables,” “My Week With Marilyn”) suggested he had this sort of complexity in him. It’s an impressive performance, so much so that it makes you wish it were in the service of stronger material.