Review: Radioactive

Dir. Marjane Satrapi. 109 minutes.

In 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium, a new element which would be used for everything from lighting wristwatches to shrinking tumors. The Curies were fearlessly inventive and unbound by convention — more than can be said, unfortunately, for the makers of the Curie biopic “Radioactive.”

Rosamund Pike, as Marie Curie, introduces some subtlety to a too-familiar role: that of the socially maladroit genius who must confront and overcome an assortment of obstructionist stuffed shirts. Sam Riley, utterly unrecognizable in an historically accurate beard, lends a certain likeability to Pierre, whose credulous enthusiasm for the “science” of spiritualism confounded his wife.

The film’s Belle-Époque Paris is gauzy and sepia-tinged, always feeling more like a dusty museum exhibit than an actual urban center occupied by 2.9 million people. The only moments of spontaneous astonishment come in the form of historical trivia: for instance, that, before the hazards of radiation were known, there was a craze for radium-laced skin cream, chocolate and toothpaste.

Initially, “Radioactive” seems to offer a trip back to the days when many were possessed by a naive faith in the healing power of high technology. Director Marjane Satrapi — yes, the woman behind “Persepolis” — punctures this optimism with a series of vignettes visiting Hiroshima in 1945, Chernobyl in 1986 and other moments when the Promethean power of the atom released upon the world. It’s an unexpected device — the sort of thing “Radioactive” could have used more of.