Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive content. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 16, 2016 Released by: Summit Entertainment
A limited (circa 1929-1938) literary biopic of legendary Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins (who's worked with famed novelists like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway) hardly achieves cinematic grandeur as directed by London theater maestro Michael Grandage.
Genius has quite a cast of mostly English and Australian thespians though set in a rainy Big Apple with the exterior and interior looks providing some atmosphere for a unique, but finally lackluster bromance.
A lot of drinking (bourbon is a liquor of choice) and visits to jazz clubs are among the partaking of Max (a reserved Colin Firth of Kingsmen: The Secret Service not really enticed to take his hat off) and rising Carolina author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, sporting a noticeable Southern drawl). Wolfe would go on to produce four extensive novels, dramatic pieces, short stories and novellas.
Grandage and scenarist John Logan (Spectre, Hugo) draw to little avail from A. Scott Berg's novel which goes to show how tricky it can be to make a feature of the writing process smite a dramatic emotional spark. Even if you think there is much chemistry between Firth and a walloping Law in one of his more unusual portraits the acting does have that reaching for the rafters quality about it.
Not that some into Wolfe and his profession with the slash and stet and so forth at the outset investing much into Max's acuity won't be deterred by the possibilities of the set-up and where it leads.
So, a close platonic kinship ensues with folks in their sphere trying to make impressions (not really much) around their intense activity to get much whittled down to get bound between two cover that would be called crap by one prominent individual.
Guy Pearce and Dominic West are Papa Hemingway and Fitzgerald with the latter really having some fun with the smaller role opposite wife tempestuous wife Zelda (Vanessa Kirby). Laura Linney injects some palpable ardor into her neglected aspiring playwright wife of Max, Louise, whose kids take a liking to the 'outgoing' Wolfe. Nicole Kidman's vacuous theatre director Aline, Wolfe's older married lover, isn't enamored with the amount of time Max and Thomas are spending together and could be a threat to their important collaboration. With crisis felt in their dynamic, from faith in the output to destructive behavior that would lead to an early demise in Baltimore for an author who said "culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs."
In terms of casting, writing, and direction given the A-list talent on hand it's surprising how imprudent this venture turns out to be as "Genius" really has much to be gleaned. Just not in this unexpected paltry, stolid presentation.