Genius full movie review - Talent, Torment and Tragedy
The great Truman Capote once brilliantly said that "when God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation.
" I tend to think that the last part is the most definitive and most painful one, specially to a crafted artist whether being a writer, a filmmaker or anything related to the arts. The amount of trouble, pain and suffering that goes through the mind of a creative mind during the long process of making something meaningful, the roads taken to make that art relevant or at least palatable to someone is like moving mountains you're not completely sure they must be moved in the first place, or never knowing that they're heading to the right direction.
I've never read Thomas Wolfe's works but what I could gather here in "Genius" seems like a true definition to Capote's words. Here's a talented yet tormented soul that knew how to expose his views with long descriptions about the world he knew, it seemed brilliant on paper but it dragged on endlessly each book came by...but that in the words of his editor who managed to make those works something that readers would like to read. It's more of question of Wolfe being born on the wrong era; in our times it's quite possible that he'd manage to publish his novels in the way he intended to be. Unfortunately, books are a true definitive so everything that is essential must stay on the page, and in the mind of a writer this is a constant and heavy torment to bear, specially when you're forced to leave something out or worst, when you think you left out something important. It's not like a big budget film where years later the author can make a director's cut version, changing and adding stuff to the audience to present how the original idea was better than the edited version the studio forced them to release. Intelligent readers and watchers of the world, this movie is for you despite its imperfections and it's lack of a higher engagement.
"Genius" stars Colin Firth as Max Perkins, the famous editor who published best-sellers from the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. One day a huge manuscript came to his desk from a certain unknown Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Intrigued by the story and the evident talent by the young man, Perkins decides to publish the book on the condition of extensive rewrites to make it shorter. Wolfe is appalled but since Perkins' publishing company was the first to accept his novel after being rejected by several others, he complies and gets instructions in how to reduce what's repetitive and unworthy and make it more concise (Perkins was also a writer). The result was "Look Homeward, Angel" and the rest is a successful history that evolved into a deep friendship between both men. Since films cannot translate with exact measure the weight of a literary work, we only get glimpses of what Wolfe writers with a minimum of context - but they worked at least for what I saw and the intended message of conveying Wolfe's world.
Then inspiration came again to Wolfe. Boxes and boxes of manuscripts totaling 5000 pages and in what would become "Of Time end the River", drastically reduced and with years of development to reach its known version. But by that time Wolfe and Perkins relationship (friends at first, then more paternalistic to Wolfe) started to deteriorate not only because of constant fights over why it was important the book stay in that long way but also due to personal problems Wolfe had with his rich girlfriend (Nicole Kidman); and also some minor problems Perkins had in spending some quality time with his family because of his work obsession with that epic book.
In the end, "Genius" fascinates us without that extra twinkle in the eye one would expect from a real-life story. It doesn't inspire neither cause amazement; but it reveals a reality hardly seen or presented on films. John Logan's script isn't one of his greatest, it's quite moderate but perhaps there's something about the acting or the direction that forced the film in going to a path that wasn't so brilliant or appreciative. The characters are somewhat distant that it's hardly to engage for any of them or to deeply understand their true motivations: is Perkins right with his guidance to Wolfe or it's just a matter of sabotage because he'd become a writer more referenced than Perkins was? Perkins is right in cutting everything because the other is pretentious or because there's a lack of talent in there but he knows how to shape it? It's all a mystery.
Firth is always a true class act even though he makes of Perkins someone really cold; Law is over-the-top but Wolfe might have been that kind of guy, who shouts and flows with such energy that is hard to deal with it, some would say his performance is erratic, to me it was on/off. Kidman didn't impress me, showing off a lot; and Laura Linney steals the show as Perkins wife. The problem with "Genius" is having a first-time director carrying this material. Sure, Michael Grandage is a known theater name but he's no Orson Welles or Sam Mendes to make a spectacular transition with such high-class cast and material.
Wolfe made his mark, now he's part of the American canon of writers of the 20th Century. But the readers of the world were deprived of something that now is lost and gone forever thanks to Perkins. We'll never know who got it right in this battle for the arts. And I think it's fair to say that the talent Perkins had also came with a whip, one that was more hard-hitting on him whether editing his friend's book but also in ways that their friendship almost ended. 8/10