A respectful portrait of the writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a young man, Tolkien doesn’t change the literary biopic game, but stands apart from much of its competition as a well-made, honorable presentation of the author’s formative years.
The latest feature from Finnish director Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland) also takes certain non-corny approaches regarding geniuses and their inspirations that more entries in this sub-genre would be wise to follow, though the rarity of risks on display and the fairly tidy overall package in which it’s wrapped keeps the film firmly in safe cinematic territory.
Two years after playing J.D. Salinger in the insulting and unimaginative Rebel in the Rye, Nicholas Hoult finds a movie about a war veteran, PTSD-suffering, fiction-penning icon worthy of his talents.
Whether debating art and life with his three devoted school chums, endearing himself to love interest Edith Bratt (Lily Collins, Mirror Mirror), or reflecting on his time with these cherished individuals during the Battle of the Somme, Hoult’s Tolkien is a deeply appealing figure and one for whom viewers wish nothing but success — perhaps to a fault.
Compensating for his quasi-vanilla heroism are the sparks that will make their way into Tolkien’s beloved fantasy stories, which Karukoski and screenwriters David Gleeson (Don’t Go) and Stephen Beresford (2014’s Pride) refreshingly refuse to present as one-to-one correlations, decrying the notion that creativity is that simple.
Were the regal, no-fuss filmmaking willing to match the script’s daringness, Tolkien might be something truly special, but in its current form it’s still well worth seeing.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Starts May 10 at the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo by David Appleby. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film)