How do you convey what goes through the mind of an artist, or a composer, or an author? Movie history is littered with failed attempts to dramatize the lives and motivations of creative people. But somehow, Genius manages to capture the grandiose dreams of author Thomas Wolfe and the dedication of his fabled editor, Maxwell Perkins. It is an altogether extraordinary achievement.

Colin Firth is well cast as Perkins, the man who played midwife to the published works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, among other celebrated (and difficult) authors. In this adaptation of A. Scott Berg’s brilliant biography Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, the lion’s share of attention is given to Wolfe, a larger-than-life Southerner played—in an Oscar-worthy performance—by Jude Law.

Laura Linney-Genius-420

(Photo by Marc Brenner )

Wolfe, whose unwieldy manuscripts have been rejected by every publisher in New York, finds an ally and protector in Perkins at Scribner’s and Sons, although it means the editor will have to work for endless months to tame Wolfe’s sprawling work. It also means he will neglect his loving but long-suffering wife (Laura Linney) and daughters at their home in Connecticut.

Theater director Michael Grandage and a team of talented colleagues bring New York in the 1920s and ‘30s to vivid life. Viewers too young to have walked into an old-fashioned wood-paneled office, where the secretarial pool was visible through panes of glass, and each desk had an inkwell and a tabletop lamp, will get a good idea of this bygone era.

Screenwriter John Logan bought the rights to Berg’s biography twenty years ago and has endured several near-misses before seeing this film come to fruition. The versatile and prolific writer (creator of television’s Penny Dreadful and author of the prize-winning play Red, whose film credits range from Sweeney Todd to the recent James Bond movies) has done Max Perkins proud.


(Photo by Marc Brenner)

Nicole Kidman tackles the difficult role of Tom Wolfe’s self-destructive mistress, while Guy Pearce and Dominic West make brief but effective appearances as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, respectively. (If you want to know more about their relationship with Perkins it’s well worth reading Berg’s book, which originated as a doctoral thesis at Princeton University.)

But principal acting honors go to Firth, as the introverted but steadfast advocate of authors, and Law, as the flamboyant writer who, in spite of his many idiosyncrasies, is worthy of Perkins’ faith in him.

As someone who loves books, and authors, I immediately warmed to this film. It may not be flawless but it won me over completely.


Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024