Genius Movie Review
A great cast—Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney—does not make a great movie, proof being the new drama Genius, now on Blu-ray. A routine drama about the relationship between eccentric writer Thomas Wolfe and his famed editor Maxwell Perkins, Genius fails to establish itself as anything other than a run-of-the-mill biopic.
Jude Law tries his best to emote the passion and near-insanity of Wolfe, who is considered to be one of America’s greatest literary authors, but there’s something about his performance that just falls flat. But the actor can’t be blamed: the movie itself feels flat, an oddity considering you can see the pieces, the talent and the potential for something great on screen… The film simply never finds synergy. It never clicks into gear.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Genius goes wrong, as I can’t point to a specific scene or moment where the film goes off the rails. Screenwriter John Logan is no slouch—his credits include Gladiator, Rango and The Aviator, among others—though the movie marks the first directorial credit for Michael Grandage. The film looks fine enough, but Grandage may have though that having an A-list cast and your typical early-century color scheme would be enough to push the material over the edge.
Ultimately, Genius feels lopsided, or uneven, in its approach to Wolfe. Law spins his wheels as he bounces off the walls to show how passionate he is about his words, but the actor seems to be in a movie of his own; the other characters and actors are just there, mannequins for him to act against. Firth isn’t given much to do; the movie never establishes what his character brings to the table other than a key editing eye, though we are to believe the two considerably different individuals become best friends.
The two women, both extremely talented actresses, are given very little do. It’s sad that three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney is relegated to a thankless “wife of one of the main characters who has to deal with her husband working so much” role. Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman is given a bit more to do, but only marginally so. Her limited role is even more frustrating, because she is arguably the most interesting character of the bunch: who is this woman that loves and stands by the eccentric Thomas Wolfe? Genius never answers that question to a satisfying degree.
Or maybe the problem is simpler: the movie is about Thomas Wolfe, and the movie is called Genius, and yet it fails miserably at establishing that he was a genius or why people thought so.
Whatever the issue may be, Genius is a misfire. It isn’t a terrible watch by any means, but given the talent involved, this is a film that should be contending for awards, not one that will most certainly be forgotten by the time Oscar season rolls around.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.