“Genius” gives editors their due

Colin Firth and Laura Linney in "Genius."
Colin Firth and Laura Linney in "Genius." TNS

What It's About: All hail, editors! Those unsung heroes of important literary works are given their due in the engrossing "Genius," which explores the very complicated relationship between author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and his revered book editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth).

The year is 1929 and every New York publisher has turned down Wolfe's lengthy novel, yet Perkins, who works at Charles Scribner's Sons, takes a look as a favor and can't put it down.

Perkins, who also discovered Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, soon has another creative genius to guide and rein in, for Wolfe, an almost maniacally obsessed writer, becomes famous with 'Look Homeward, Angel."

Their collaboration turned into a deep friendship, but it was short-lived. Wolfe died at age 38 from tuberculosis of the brain.

For anyone enthralled with the creative process, this film fascinates with its look inside the publishing business and the people behind the great American literature of the early 20th century.

We read them in English class. This film allows a glimpse of their nature and the effects of fame. But I wanted more — the film comes up short in satisfying, complete portrayals.

Wolfe may have coined the oft-quoted phrase, "You can't go home again," but he mined his North Carolina roots for his art. More backstory on his Asheville upbringing would have been welcome.

Performances: Jude Law ("Spy") has rarely been better as the oversized personality, blowhard Wolfe, with an exaggerated Southern drawl and on fire with the author's insatiable need to express himself.

Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") is back in solid form as the steady editor who was dedicated to putting good books in the hands of readers, even at the neglect of his family. He's the real genius here. The movie is adapted from A. Scott Berg's biography about him.

Their father-son-like relationship is palpable. Law also has noticeable chemistry with Nicole Kidman, his co-star in "Cold Mountain," as the unstable married lover Aline Bernstein, who ditched her family for Wolfe, her discovery.

Laura Linney is seen much too briefly as Perkins' wife Louise, but she gives a voice to women wanting to carve their own path, more than a wife and mother.

Guy Pearce, as the tortured F. Scott Fitzgerald on the decline, and Dominic West, as the swaggering Ernest Hemingway, are spot-on in supporting roles.

What Works: The film's look is luxe, and expertly captures 1929 to 1938. We're drawn in immediately to Depression-era America and the streets of New York City.

Every typewritten page and red-penciled correction is a joy to witness for those who appreciate the written word. The task of turning the 5,000-page handwritten manuscript of "Of Time and the River" into a manageable work is riveting.

What Doesn't Work: The genuine portrayal of the importance of editors is inspiring, but screenwriter John Logan resorts to cliches about the writing process and fame of the untamed.

"They're calling you a genius again. God help you," Perkins warns Wolfe, who's harder to control after the success of his two books.

The intriguing relationships and the staggering work are dense, and because of that, the film leaves us wanting more.


  • Stars:
  • Director: Michael Grandage
  • Starring: Jude Law, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Nicole Kidman, Guy Pearce and Dominic West.
  • Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive content
  • Length: 1:44