Genius feels like an odd choice for the Berlin International Film Festival. While it’s undoubtedly well made, it seems to be a mainstream film with distinctive commercial prospects, which is at odds with many of the other films in this year’s Competition category. Michael Grandage makes his directorial debut, and his theatrical background is mostly not in evidence. The film deals with the initial meeting and subsequent collaborations between celebrated editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth) and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). The often-intensive nature of their work results in strained relationships between the men and the women in their lives. Laura Linney plays Max’s wife Louise, while Nicole Kidman plays Aline, Wolfe’s lover and jealous muse.
There’s very little on offer that hasn’t been seen before, but this does not mean that the result isn’t a reasonably satisfactory cinematic experience. While the narrative revolves around Law’s Wolfe, it’s certainly not his story, which is rather a blessing. Law plays Wolfe with a manic energy that belongs in a different film, and his mangled attempt at a North Carolina accent can be rather grating.
Firth plays his role with a refined stoicism, punctuated by the slightest twitch in his facial expressions indicating his character’s amusement and occasional frustration. There’s a nicely mounted sequence in which Max demonstrates to Thomas the importance of avoiding cliches in his work, and it would have been nice if John Logan’s screenplay had managed to do the same.
Linney isn’t given much to do, although she does it well. Kidman is also admirable in what is very much a supporting role. She gives Aline an easily-melted coldness that makes her abrupt hysteria and subsequent calmness very credible. Genius seems to be geared towards a mature audience, and while its upcoming US summer release date means it’s unlikely to be remembered when the 2017 Academy Award nominations are announced, it’s still likely to find an appreciative audience.
Genius does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Genius here: