Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 2016. Desert Wolf Productions, Michael Grandage Company, Riverstone Pictures, Ingenious, Pinewood Pictures, Reliance Entertainment Productions 8. Screenplay by John Logan, based on the book by A. Scott Berg. Cinematography by Ben Davis. Produced by James Bierman, Michael Grandage, John Logan. Music by Adam Cork. Production Design by Mark Digby. Costume Design by Jane Petrie. Film Editing by Chris Dickens. Berlin Film Festival 2016.
Diligent Scribner editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth) has been the hand behind some of the most influential literature of the early twentieth century, with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald to his credit, spending his days perusing manuscripts at his desk and going home to his loving wife (Laura Linney) and five devoted daughters at night. A mammoth stack of messy pages by an unknown author arrives on his desk and he takes a chance on it, deciding that it is worthy of publication despite having been turned down by every other house in the city. The news is received like salvation by the writer, an eccentric southern motormouth named Thomas Wofle (Jude Law) who immediately puts himself in Perkins’ hands, determined to make the book as good as it can be. Wolfe writes only in the longest form possible, their first collaboration Look Homeward, Angel a mammoth success that shoots Wolfe to stardom, which he then follows with a manuscript so large that it requires delivery men to drop it off in Perkins’ office in crates. The process of editing now becomes a day and night effort, alienating Perkins from his wife while Wolfe’s affair with married socialite and costume designer Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) is destroyed. Bernstein’s obsession with Wolfe means that she sees Perkins as an antagonist for his attention until both of them learn that the charismatic writer is someone who uses people for what he needs and then moves on to the next inspiration that he can abuse for his own benefit. Careful period details and a cast brimming over with A-list talent can do nothing for a movie with the softest centre and strangest lack of motivation: the two main characters seem to get what they want out of each other without a great deal of difficulty, then have a falling out that is never specifically detailed. The actual process of shaping literature, which could be a look at the generally unappreciated contribution that an editor makes to the books you read, is the basis of the story but is rarely actually viewed in any significantly illustrated way. Firth and Law, both miscast and unbelievable as Americans, seem to perform as if The King’s Speech will happen again without any help from them, while Kidman is the only actor who manages to actually cut through the skin in her scenes. Vicious and volatile, her character’s journey from madly in love to emotional survivor is an investment that John Logan’s screenplay seems to fully understand and appreciate and likely deserves centre stage more than the rest of it does. The remainder of the film feels more like a book review than an actual story, and its purpose is never made clear enough.