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TIFF 2015: Absolute Truths and Outright Lies

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Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel star in  The Man Who Knew Infinity.
  • Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel star in
    The Man Who Knew Infinity.
One of the nicest surprises at this year's Toronto International Film Festival came from a movie about math. The Man Who Knew Infinity, which is based on a true story, is a gem of an independent film with as much heart as brainpower.

The "man" is Srinivasa Ramanujan, an uneducated yet brilliant mathematician from Madras, India who made his way to Cambridge University where he worked with legendary mathematician G.H. Hardy. Together they changed math forever, from fractions, to number theory to ... infinity. The film stars Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons as Ramanujan and Hardy respectively. Yes, the movie is rather scholarly and some critics may tag it as high-brow, but I found great emotional resonance in The Man Who Knew Infinity as the extremely-religious Ramanujan and strict-atheist Hardy found the right place in space and time to co-exist.

"I don't believe in God," says Hardy. "I just don't believe in anything I can't prove."

"Then you can't believe in me," responds Ramanujan.

Together the two men untangled some of the greatest mysteries of the universe. It's great stuff.

Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in The Program.
  • Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in The Program.
It's reasonable to think, in retrospect, untangling the mystery of Lance Armstrong shouldn't have been too difficult. All we really had to do was to stop believing his lies. If only it were that simple. Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) knew better and in The Program, which had its world premiere at TIFF, he makes the most compelling case yet against Armstrong by revealing the scandal for what it was: a crime.

I was taken aback at how much I enjoyed The Program. I was  expecting the film it to be a bit of a slog because, seriously, how much more do we need to know about Lance Armstrong? We get it. He lied. Move on.

But The Program unravels the Armstrong conundrum as a procedural crime drama—from the cyclist's dubious partnership with Italian physician Michele Ferrari, to Armstrong's unprecedented seven Tour de France titles, to the so-called "program" of doping and recycling of healthy blood. Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma) plays Armstrong to the hilt—he even has an uncanny likeness to the athlete. In fact, The Guardian reports  Foster went so far as to take performance-enhancing drugs to prepare for the role. As a bonus, the always-fabulous Chris O'Dowd plays Irish journalist David Walsh, the man who uncovered the Armstrong mess.

"I'm not better than anyone else. I just have the desire and the hunger," Armstrong tells Walsh during an early interview in The Program. Armstrong couldn't have been more wrong. He was indeed better than most cyclists on the planet, but drugs supplanted any desire or hunger Armstrong initially had.