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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Wealth of Words
by Richard Jack Smith

I love the meaning of words. As such, I was enlightened by The Professor and the Madman. Directed by Farhad Safinia, it details the making of the first Oxford dictionary. Above all, it's worth noting the contributions of two key players: Sean Penn and Mel Gibson. Both are superb in a story which also touches upon mental illness and madness. As such, I believed every reaction in a partnership framed by mutual affection... for the written word.

As he begins work on the A section of the new dictionary, James Murray (Mel Gibson) realises he could use some help. Therefore, he reaches out to the vast readership in the land, hoping to learn more meanings and origins of words. Answering his plea multiple times happens to be Dr. William Chester Minor (Sean Penn). The latter occupies a cell at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum for murdering a man. As they help one another, James and William encounter struggles both personal and social in their quest for enlightenment. 

With the trailer, my curiosity was piqued. This came across as an intelligent, well developed project. Happily, the film kept its promise, surpassing every expectation and then some. 

Just as Russell Crowe experienced various tortures of the damned from a whisper to a shout in A Beautiful Mind, so too does Sean Penn. Admittedly, the latter can leave me cold. However, I sympathised deeply with his ailing heart portrayal of Paul Rivers in 21 Grams. As Dr. Minor, there are layers and shades previously hidden which amount to a fully realized character. 

Synergy among the crafts people allows for an authentic presentation. Consider the lenses and light of Kasper Tuxen's cinematography or the period specific textures wrought by production designer Tom Conroy. It's impressive work.

Here's a link to my video review of Bear McCreary's score:

(Released by Vertical Entertainment. Not rated by MPAA.)

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