'The Man Who Knew Infinity' is predictable, but enjoyable

Moira Macdonald
The Seattle Times (TNS)
Jeremy Irons, left, and Dev Patel star in "The Man Who Knew Infinity." The movie opens Friday at Small Star Art House in York City.
  • "The Man Who Knew Infinity" stars Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons
  • The movie opens Friday at Small Star Art House in York
  • 3 stars out of 4

"Just like Mozart could hear a symphony in his head, you dance with numbers up to infinity," says Professor Hardy (Jeremy Irons), admiringly, to his protege Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a self-taught mathematics genius. It's 1913, at Trinity College in Cambridge University, and Ramanujan, an impoverished accounting clerk, has left his wife (lovely newcomer Devika Bhise), his job and his culture behind in India, in the hopes of convincing the academic establishment to accept and publish his theories.
"The Man Who Knew Infinity" is one of those true stories that almost seems made-up: Ramanujan's abilities seem like those of a superhero (is there an X-Man who specializes in math?), and his personal story almost unbearably poignant. Or perhaps it's just the way Matthew Brown's film tells it.
Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") invests his whip-smart character with boyish charm and gentle vulnerability; Irons makes the most of his role as moviedom's umpteenth Eccentric British Professor; and Brown sprinkles it all with picturesque snowflakes, wartime shadows and elegantly handwritten pages of math formulae.
It's predictable — throughout the film, I kept thinking that I'd seen it before — and a bit sentimental, yet thoroughly pleasant. Like all good biopics, it leaves you wanting to know more about its subject and about the mysterious way that math geniuses think. Mathematical theories, Ramanujan tells his wife, are "like a painting, but with colors you cannot see."

3 out of 4 stars
Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Devika Bhise, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones.
Written and directed by Matthew Brown.
108 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and smoking.