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Film review: Genius brings the literary legends of 1920s New York to life

Colin Firth and Jude Law head an impressive cast as editor Maxwell Perkins and author Thomas Wolfe in theatre director Michael Grandage's first feature film
Colin Firth and Jude Law in Genius. Courtesy Lionsgate
Colin Firth and Jude Law in Genius. Courtesy Lionsgate


Director: Michael Grandage

Starring: Colin Firth, Jude Law, Guy Pearce, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney

Three stars

With a title this bold, it’s intriguing to wonder just who is the Genius in this tale of two real-life literary giants, editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law).

Considered and cultured, Perkins brought writers including F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to the fore during his time at Manhattan publisher Scribner’s — but he arguably had no greater challenge on his hands than when he encountered the raw, but undeniably talented, Wolfe.

After shaping Wolfe’s first novel, the autobiographical Look Homeward, Angel, Perkins is left with a mountain to climb when endless pages of Wolfe’s second book, Of Time and the River, arrive at his office in a series of crates.

Studiously played by Firth, the editor sets to work as his friendship with the effusive Wolfe ebbs and flows. Other relationships suffer as a consequence — including Perkins’s marriage wife Louise (Laura Linney), an Wolfe’s connection to Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman).

Acclaimed British theatre director Michael Grandage making his feature-film debut behind the camera, while the script comes courtesy of John Logan (based on the A Scott Berg biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius).

It’s certainly tasteful, with handsome production values and a cast to match. But it rather struggles to take flight; watching a man bash away furiously at his typewriter is difficult enough to make an entertaining prospect, but viewing Perkins diligently marking up copy with his trusty red pen is even less stimulating for the audience.

Emotions are kept strictly under wraps, even as Perkins and Wolfe’s mentor-pupil dynamic gradually sours. Linney and Kidman are also underused, disappointingly.

Yet as a depiction of this once-in-a-lifetime New York literary scene of the 1920s, it is fascinating — with fine work in particular from Guy Pearce as a maudlin Fitzgerald, in a performance far removed from the suave sophisticate he is so often portrayed as.

Indeed, any film that takes literature this seriously deserves some credit.


Updated: August 23, 2016 04:00 AM



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