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Brilliant Young Mind, A

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // January 26, 2016
List Price: $25.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jesse Skeen | posted May 23, 2016 | E-mail the Author

"Child genius" films are usually inspiring and entertaining, A Brilliant Young Mind being no exception. It's loosely based on a true story, and while it's been released in the rest of the world under the more interesting title x+y which emphasizes the math-centric plot, Samuel Goldwyn has opted to give the US this alternate, more generic title but at least still makes a bit of sense given that the narrative film was "inspired by" director Morgan Matthews' previous documentary titled Beautiful Young Minds.

Asa Butterfield (of Hugo) is Nathan Ellis, an introvert on the autism spectrum who enjoys solving mathematical equations and problems. Showing a gift for this earlier in life, his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) arranges a mentorship with teacher Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall), who was a child genius himself but hasn't fully realized his own potential mainly due to health problems. Over several years he guides Nathan until he earns a spot amongst England's 16 brightest students to attend a "Maths Camp" in Taipei, Taiwan. From here the group will be narrowed down to six who will compete in the International Math Olympiad against the six brightest students from many other countries. At the camp, Nathan is for the first time amongst others his age who share his interest in math, and is a bit intimidated as also for the first time he finds himself to not be the smartest kid in the room. At one point he frustratingly states "Everyone's cleverer than me!" As the students from England are joined in training by qualifying students from China, he falls in love for the first time after the instructor pairs off the two groups, landing Nathan with Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) who also happens to be the Chinese instructor's niece. The two of them find enough spare time to explore Taipei a bit and Zhang Mei gradually coaxes Nathan out of his shell a bit.

This doesn't quite end up as a standard movie romance however, and the movie also avoids applying Rocky-like elements to the math competition the way it's been done in other films. Being rather introverted myself I certainly identified with Nathan, and how he was both intimidated by the other students in his group who shared some of his unique talents while also being a bit frustrated at their immaturity and differing personalities, as most of them are far more talkative and outgoing. The movie runs a bit on the long side at 112 minutes, which doesn't drag and gives Nathan plenty of screen time but oddly avoids showing us many of the story's math-related elements. We get a few shots of Nathan staring at pages of numbers and variables but the filmmakers seem to assume that the audience isn't too interested in those and might perhaps be beyond our understanding. While I don't consider myself a math "genius" and the subject often frustrated me when I was younger, lately it's become quite enjoyable and part of the basis of my current career path, so I was left wanting to know a bit more about exactly what sort of problems the students here were working on. (When I have time I'll at least go back and freeze-frame on the few that are shown to see if I can make any sense out of them.) It is nice to see Nathan discover the opposite sex, which ends up fascinating him almost as much as the subject of math does, though he can't quite explain why and wonders if a mathematical formula for love exists.


Nicely shot in 2.35, this standard DVD of course looks a bit soft due to the limitations of the format but is about as good as it's capable of, given a dual-layer disc for minimal compression. It is a bit odd that this was put out by Sony, the main company behind the Blu-Ray format, yet they did not see fit to release this movie that format. (It is available from other countries under the original x+y title.) The color temperature is deliberately "cold" which sort of fits Nathan's apparent state of mind throughout much of the movie. There are a few scenes where Mandarin is spoken, and as Sony often does they use blocky player-generated English subtitles for these, which I've always felt take you out of the movie. (At least the ones used on Blu-Ray discs are more indistinguishable from ones that would appear theatrically. I've heard since digital projection took over theaters, some movies have used electronic subtitles but technical problems with those have had some titles traditionally included on the picture itself instead.)


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is rather simple given that this is a mostly dialogue-driven movie, though the rear channels are used occasionally and is best played loud to emphasize the dreamy, often Philip Glass-like music score by "Mearl" along with a number of mellow indie-pop songs. The British accents are a bit hard to understand, watching this a second time reading the included standard subtitles clarified a few things I had missed the first time around- including that apparently in Britain they call the working of mathematical problems "maths" rather than "math" as they do here. Separate hearing-impaired subtitles are also included as well as Spanish.


The DVD doesn't include any movie-related extras but does have trailers for The Walk, Concussion and Goosebumps, even indicating that these are available on Blu-Ray even if the movie on this disc isn't (Concussion is even available on 4K UHD as a matter of fact, while the other two are in 3D.) Annoyingly the disc begins with a menu asking you to select English or Spanish before you can go any further (never mind that every DVD player since the beginning of the format already lets users set them to their preferred language), yet if Spanish is selected the trailers still play in English with no subtitles and the main menu is still only in English, with the only real difference being that Spanish subtitles are automatically turned on.

Final Thoughts:

A Brilliant Young Mind falls just a bit short of cinematic brilliance as it's one of those movies that seems to skip over a few details and leaves you wondering what happens after it ends, but is nevertheless engrossing as it reminds us that you can often think you're the best at something yet there still might be others who are better at it than you.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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