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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by Lybarger

"If you see one Paul Bettany movie this weekend…"
3 stars

Charles Darwin is such a polarizing figure that trying to make a credible portrait of him is almost impossible. I’m willing to give director Jon Amiel (‘Entrapment’) credit for at least trying.

Amiel and screenwriter John Collee (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) look beyond the ideas that Darwin explored in The Origin of Species and other books and present him roughly as he was before he became an icon for some and a pariah for others.

As portrayed by Paul Bettany (who bears some likeness to the naturalist as a young man), Darwin was a man who may have been lucky to accomplishing much of anything. While he was a diligent researcher, Darwin, from his 30s on had severe bouts of illness that weren’t helped by the medicines of the day.

To treat periods of dizziness, nausea other symptoms, he took laudanum (which is derived from opium), mercury, lead and other “cures” that would be considered toxic today. Because he was incapacitated for long periods of time, it’s amazing he was able to turn out such long volumes on biology.

Darwin was also deeply troubled by the death of his ten-year-old daughter Annie (Martha West, the talented daughter of Dominic West). Knowing that the Annie’s passing has already upset his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly, Bettany’s real-life spouse), he becomes reticent to go farther with his research because she thoroughly disagrees with the conclusions he’s reaching.

Bettany, who’s played everything from fanatical priests (in “The Da Vinci Code”) to angels (this week’s “Legion”), goes to great lengths to portray Darwin as human. After having read Annie’s Box, the book that inspired the film, it’s safe to say that he nails Darwin’s infirmities and his inherent shyness. For a fellow whose ideas have angered generations, Darwin (or at least the way Bettany plays him) is a reluctant iconoclast, so his challenge is more involving than if he had merely been an exhibitionist.

With Bettany as an anchor, the rest of the film manages to stay tethered even though it occasionally drifts into odd directions. While the flashback-heavy structure of the story is helpful in demonstrating how the close connections Darwin had with his family influenced his work as a scientist, the film loses credibility when it morphs into a ghost story. Annie’s absence did change the way that Charles and Emma each thought about God, but come on! It’s almost as if Annie is his cheerleader instead of his daughter.

The movie is on better ground when it examines how the gap between Charles and Emma’s religious beliefs widened throughout their lifelong relationship. Charles was an agnostic who could no longer see the direct intervention of God into His creations’ lives, but he couldn’t eliminate the Almighty from his thoughts completely. It’s reminiscent of when Stephen Colbert quipped that agnostics were “just atheists without balls.”

Emma, however, can’t bear the thought of Charles not spending eternity with her and the children, so it’s interesting to see how Bettany and Connelly portray the gap between their roles. If you’re hoping to see a real-life couple kindling their passion on screen, “Creation” will disappoint. Nonetheless, they are convincing as a real couple. If you watch their faces, you can spot subtle points of irritation or weariness. It’s not the sort of thing they usually make movies about, but it’s what married people actually do.

The production is handsome, and the few sequences that replicate Darwin’s pre-marital voyages are gorgeous. In addition, the story of an orangutan whom Darwin studies is oddly moving. The simian thespian who plays “Jenny” is remarkably believable.

Nonetheless, it might have helped the film if Darwin’s admittedly complicated ideas about evolution were more clearly articulated. Many of the people who praise or condemn Darwin actually know little about his writings or research, so a refresher would be helpful.

Just as most scientific theories aren’t correct the first time they’re submitted, “Creation” feels as if could have used some more development. It’s nice to have the film out for the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, but it would have been better if the film’s structure had been more defined before shooting had started.

At least by attempting to look at Darwin as he was instead of the name in a textbook he’s become, perhaps a more mature discussion of his ideas can occur.

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originally posted: 01/22/10 22:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/23/12 Les S. Great concept, good acting, poor delivery 3 stars
5/04/11 millersxing wisely separates the man from the myth with the utmost intellectual and emotional integrity 4 stars
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  22-Jan-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Jun-2010


  DVD: 29-Jun-2010

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