Directed by Michael Grandage
Released June 10, 2016 / DVD September 6, 2016
It’s very possible that a deceased writer knowing that his life story has been made into a movie might cause him to turn over in his grave. The hope is that the art form of cinema does justice to the words put to paper by an author, though it’s hard to find too many instances where critics declare that “the movie was so much better than the book.” It’s been over eighty years since Thomas Wolfe’s books were published, and now it’s time for the story of the frenetic, unpredictable writer to have his story made into a film, one that’s not nearly as long as most of his work but manages to showcase the passion he felt for what he did and wrote.
There are two central characters in “Genius,” and they couldn’t be more different. Max Perkins (Colin Firth) is a quiet, mild-mannered editor who works with writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The excitable Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) bursts into his office overflowing with ideas and a giant manuscript, and Perkins sees in Wolfe a tremendous opportunity. The film chronicles their arduous work together, filled with fervent passion from Wolfe and a steadfast commitment from Perkins to condensing all his crazy impulses and excessive prose to a marketable and memorable published piece.
This dramatization of the collaboration between two literature greats stars two notable British actors doing their best impressions of Americans. Firth, who won an Oscar portraying a stuttering regal figure in “The King’s Speech,” delivers a muted performance as Perkins, whose energy can best be perceived by the amount of time he puts into his work, neglecting his family and his life to focus on the weeks and months he feels he must spend to craft the work. Law, a two-time Oscar nominee who in years such as 2004 was churning out six films at a time, hands in his most memorable performance in a long time, channeling so much sheer zeal for what he does and never suppressing it, which of course often becomes problematic when his behavior is inappropriate. The supporting cast includes Laura Linney and Nicole Kidman as the most prominent women in these two men’s lives as well as Guy Pearce as Fitzgerald and Dominic West as Hemingway. Only Law stands out among the whole cast, and the film can’t quite match his energy and as a result doesn’t present itself as a vital story of a great writer.