A review of The Professor & the Madman by Ahmed Zayani
If there was one actor that defined the term “megastar” while I was growing up in the 90s then that man would be Arnold Schwarzenegger? Ok, that took an unexpected turn, but be that as it may, “one” of the men who defined the term “megastar” while I was growing up in the 90s has to be Mel (the epic) Gibson. From his humble beginnings playing Mad Max in George Miller’s highly acclaimed Road Warrior, there was something about Gibson that made him transcend over others in his field by a huge margin. Not only could the man act in epic stands but he did so while exuding so much charm and charisma that he’d make Clooney green with envy on his best day. Whether he’s in front of the camera in a wild array of roles or behind it directing enthralling pieces of cinema, it is always a joy whenever a Mel Gibson film comes around and I for one am glad to see him back after his mainstream forced exodus.
Directed by P. B. Sherman, ‘The Professor & the Madman’ stars Mel Gibson & Sean Penn. It tells the story of Scottish laureate James Murray (played by Gibson) who has been tasked by Oxford University with the gargantuan task of compiling the first comprehensive all-encompassing English language dictionary. While the task seems daunting, impossible even, at first, Murray finds a surprising source of aide in Dr. William Chester Minor (played by Penn) a troubled genius who has been incarcerated in a countryside sanitarium as penance for his transgressions. I have to admit; while I did hear of this film in passing from friends, Instagram followers (love y’all) and the awesome people that make Saar Cineplex (#FOREVER) the awesome place it is, I really did not know what to expect. I did not read any synopsis nor did I catch any trailer beforehand. For all, I knew this was a murder mystery wherein Gibson tried to clear Penn’s protagonist of all misdeeds. The feature itself could have not been further away from my expectations but that did not hinder my enjoyment in any way. On the contrary, the film that played out in front of me was far better than anything I could’ve expected.
The story presented here was a dramatical character study of our two protagonists. It showed the struggles in attempting to achieve the seemingly impossible, as well as the joy in finding one’s kinship out of the blue. I for one found pure ecstasy in all of this and relished every frame of the film. The acting presented here was simply sublime with both Gibson and Penn putting forth nothing short of a masterpiece for thespians. The scenes that the two legends shared together were the highlight for me, with their chemistry being palpable and their enthusiasm and genuine interest seemingly jumping off the screen. Outside of the starring duo, both Natalie Dormer and Ioan Gruffudd did well in their somewhat understated roles, while Eddie Marsan surprised me with his take on a character that in the hands of a lesser actor would’ve been a paper-thin caricature. Steve Coogan also showed up to give the whole affair an extra dose of class.
With all that said, is The Professor & the Madman a perfect film? Unfortunately, the answer to that is no and the film suffers from a few issues; the run time is a tad long on the tooth and the whole thing would’ve benefited from a ten to fifteen minute trim. The presentation of the film did seem questionable at times. Given the production issues that took place between Gibson & Voltage Films, I kind of understand the reason for that, but it still plays to the film’s detriment. That said, I do think that The Professor & the Madman is an immensely entertaining production that is well worth your time. If for nothing, then at the very least you’ll get to enjoy two masters of their craft raising the bar for all.
For more cinematic intel, follow Ahmed on @theahmedzayani
The Five: Favourite Mel Gibson Films
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- Lethal Weapon