Having seen the trailer twice and read a so-so review in The Straits Times, I had no intention of watching The Professor and the Mad Man at the cinema. Then a friend (not a movie buff but went because of Mel Gibson and Sean Penn) told me it deserved two thumbs up. I’m not even a bit crazy about the two actors but decided to go to the theatres today. With no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised right from the start and totally blown away by the end!
Based on the 1998 book, The Surgeon of Crowthorn, by Simon Winchester, this biographical drama is so fascinating and captivating that more than 120 mins just flew by.
The story is about the life of James Murray (Gibson) as he worked on compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 19th century and the humongous amount of entries he received from a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr William Minor (Penn).
Everyone in the cast (including all the children and Broadmoor guards) are surprisingly good and the film is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and inspiring. The most outstanding performance is from Penn; and I think this movie should be in the running for Best Picture and Best Actor in next year’s Academy Awards.
There are so many themes that captivate me: courage, kindness, ambition, guilt, dedication, self-education, compassion, support, love, hatred, class, integrity, passion, empathy, mental illness and relationships, including friendship.
All these are made more poignant and enthralling by the perfect music score throughout – from the sinister and mysterious strings and the steady and pulsating rhythm at the opening scene, to the frantic and trilling crescendo with the rousing motifs; from the melancholic and solemn cello solos to the brilliance of the fiddle; from the suspense suggested by the flutes to the shattering climaxes depicted by the orchestra; and then the return of the calm and mellow viola and the emotional vocals that foreshadow an unexpected consequence. Most telling are those scenes that are totally devoid of music which heighten the dramatic effects.
Kudos to the entire crew behind the scenes (especially those involved in the set design, art direction, costumes, hair and make up, sound effects and stock footage). The result is simply phenomenal.