After scanning all of the promotional write-ups of films at Cinequest 2004, this was the one to which I gave the highest hopeful rating. In fact, I even talked two friends into joining me in seeing "Madness and Genius."
The good news is that they both enjoyed it. I however, did not have my expectations met. I'd say wait till the director gets some more funding, more secondary ideas and more experience to remake this film later.
To be sure, Tom Noonan delivered big time. He was a big part of my anticipation of this film. His portrayal of a scientist/professor was always captivating. From the physical (how he clutched after a pen that was rolling off a desk, and even how he lurched around town) to the more complex (he's very believable as someone who seems to be socially cut-off from his surroundings, but from time to time drops in a comment of crystal clarity).
The other actors (with the exception of the department chair) just were not up to the task. Too often a scene had *one* thing going on, visually or in the dialog. More distractions on the sides will make for a more believable film, as well as help smooth over the scientific underpinnings. And more two-shots too!
It was shot in black and white high definition video, and the director in a very short post-film discussion (it was late for many, just after 11 pm) mentioned that he just could not afford the color stock. This was news to me, I had no idea there was a cost differential (nor did my two friends, one who has made some amateur films himself). Still for $20K, this was a pretty solid first effort.
This film toys with many interesting ideas, indeed it is the finest anti-recruitment film for college I've seen yet. In some ways, college and its place in our lives really needs to be examined more. Several times actors in this ask, "Why are you here," to our young villain.
I only hope that when, not if, this gets remade by a larger production company, they will make sure Noonan gets to reprise his role as Professor Donovan.
One last weird note, I was going to try and check a hunch whether writer/director Ryan Eslinger dropped out of college, and I came across another young man of the same name, with his own bout with "Madness."