I’ve seen so many negative reviews about this movie on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (mostly because they claim that the movie is a poor adaptation of the book). I haven’t read the book, so this review is based solely on the movie adaptation. This film is a national treasure and must be cherished as such. Mel Gibson and Sean Penn pulled off one of their best performances and totally deserved to be recognized.
This is a story that tells about the development of the Oxford English Dictionary(OED) which began in 1878 by editors; James Murray and William Minor and how they came to form a close friendship over the course of their lives. Now you might think “how difficult could it have been to write a dictionary?” Very fucking hard if I must say, considering that there were no phones, and all research had to be done manually and they also had to write the history of each of the words. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
James Murray is a professor hired by the Oxford University Press to develop the OED that would capture all English words ever known to man. In order to do this, he solicited help from booksellers all over London including William Minor, an American army doctor confined to a psychiatric hospital for killing an innocent man. William went on to become instrumental in the development of the dictionary and a lifelong friend of James.
Mel Gibson and Sean Penn were extraordinary. Let me start with Sean. This is a man who is on a very short list of actors with 2 Oscars for Best Actor and this was one movie he should have been recognized for. His performance as a mentally-ill person seeking redemption for the hurt he had caused was absolutely brilliant, while also shedding light on mental illness and how their feelings, however expressed are valid.
I grew up watching Mel Gibson so I’m not even surprised at his range and otherworldliness. His transformation into all of his roles is mind-blowing. In theory, the role of James Murray is boring as hell. Mel Gibson came and gave the character so much life and color and that is so rare to see in an actor. He’s had his ups and downs in Hollywood but one thing you cannot take away from him is his commitment to all of his characters.
The Professor and the Madman is one movie I will not forget in a hurry. It does well to tell the story of how the OED was developed, but beneath all of that, it showed us the meaning of love, friendship, and forgiveness. In a world that is filled with chaos and people taking advantage of each other, it gives a certain reassurance in the belief that there are good people, and all you need is for just one person to see you for who you really are, and hear you when words are not being said, and everything will be alright.
I’ll rate this movie 7.5 out of 10.