Natural Dejection: Evolution makes Bettany and Connelly dour.

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The only thing more potentially mind-numbing than a film about a 19th-century scientist writing a book is a film starring Paul Bettany as a 19th-century scientist writing a book. The perpetually staid, ghostly-looking actor delivers another dead-man-walking performance as Charles Darwin in Creation, the adaptation of a biography that the evolutionist’s great-great grandson Randal Keynes compiled from family letters and diaries. The film, directed by Jon Amiel (The Core) and written by John Collee (Happy Feet!), focuses on the latter period of Darwin’s many years of research when his work begins to literally consume him—as his belief in his theories increases, his faith in a higher power evaporates, much to the alarm of his religious wife and first cousin (played by Bettany’s real wife, Jennifer Connelly) and that of his community. Darwin’s few supporters gleefully tell him that he’s “killed God,” which doesn’t do much for his mental or physical well-being as he debates whether to publish his findings. And though his eldest, intellectually curious daughter, Annie (magnetic newcomer Martha West), shares Darwin’s enthusiasm for science, he begins to feel guilty about having had children once he understands that breeding within too-close bloodlines can result in weak offspring. Much of Creation is overwrought, from the score that insists you feel Darwin’s pain to Connelly’s single task of looking intensely concerned. But it’s surprisingly touching, too. (Get ready to cry over an orangutan.) And the most engaging angle of the story—particularly because it’s freshly relevant—is the philosphical wrestling between Team Evolution and Team God. Given what a hot-button issue it is today, it’s fascinating to consider what a heavy burden Darwin must have carried as he prepared to tell the world that it wasn’t, in fact, created in seven days. The stress could have understandably turned life-threatening. For once, Bettany’s pale gauntness fits just right.