“Tolkien” – Review (Hoult & Collins Headline a Capable Biopic)

TOLKIEN_1Sht_27x40_Payoff2_RingArt_rgb2_FIN_MECH_FIN.indd“TOLKIEN” is coming to theaters this weekend starring Nicholas Hoult as the famous author J. R. R. Tolkien. Headlining the cast alongside him is Lily Collins with Dome Karukoski taking on the directing duties. This is the story of the iconic writer who created the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” novels. The script covers his years growing up as an orphan, as well as portions of his adult years and time in WWI that all served as inspiration for the world-renowned books, he would go on to write.

Now I’m not a die-hard fan of the fantasy genre. However, I do enjoy it as a change of pace from more grounded movies. I very much admire the endless creativity that fantasy films and novels require to build worlds people have never seen. Worlds and places with their own rules, cultures, historical timelines, languages and so on. “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” novels are highly regarded by many as classics in the genre. So naturally a biopic capturing the life of the writer behind these creations was one that showed a ton of potential.

This was a very well-crafted film from top-to-bottom. The time-period was nicely captured to pull me into the settings. The performances were all more than enough to provide a collection of interesting characters that were rich with personality and charm to invest in as a viewer. I also enjoyed how the film was able to blend the life events of Tolkien with the inspiration of his writing. This created some subtly imposing sequences that routinely sparked reminders of the famous books he wrote. Tolkien would have these visions of imposing beasts looming in shadows while on the battlefield that created some genuinely ominous visuals. This imagery also had reasoning because of how the story connected it with Tolkien’s mental escapism which I appreciated. I walked out of the theater feeling entertained by what I had watched, but for some reason it didn’t feel lasting to me.

Tolkien © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

This is the most high-profile film director Dome Karukoski has taken on and I think he did a fantastic job of crafting a beautifully shot film. But a small piece of me feels this film played it safe in terms of creative style. It very much felt like a movie that had all the right ingredients yet proceeded to pour them into the very familiar time-period biopic mold. Despite having its own atmosphere, the film was very by-the-numbers as far as progression, character-arcs, and film style. It doesn’t necessarily hinder the entertainment, but it does limit the ability of the film to have its own unique personality to stand out from the collection of other similar films telling the stories of historical figures. And for something as creative and ambitious as Tolkien’s novels this telling of his life felt surprisingly routine.

With that said I still think this was a solid film with a lot of positives going for it. I think Nicholas Hoult was great in the lead. I wouldn’t say he disappeared into this role, but I don’t think he particularly had to in order to capture the personality traits of Tolkien. He was an orphan that came from a troubled background and he was the poor one out of his friends. But his intellect carried him where he needed to go. His love of writing, creating worlds and characters was his escape which this film was certainly able to portray through the skilled performance of Hoult.

Tolkien © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Lily Collins was an awesome co-lead alongside Hoult, and I felt she created a charming, intelligent character that was able to challenge Tolkien in the exact ways he needed someone to. The dialogue was crisp and well-timed between them to capture aspects of his creative process through their conversations which was fascinating. Their scenes felt very natural which made their connection feel that much more authentic. Collins as Edith Bratt was a fantastic addition because she brought capability to the role, and a strong independence that was able to command the screen. This made seeing Tolkien that much more enamored by her easy to understand and relate to.

The story-line captures the impact of Tolkien’s early years with his group of friends and the trauma of his time spent in World War I effectively. The varying sequences of events and the multiple timelines do feel slightly choppy at times. I think the jumps could have been thinned out to let each sequence run longer. But regardless there’s still a relatively smooth flow and a decent balance between the story layers to create a clear picture of what inspired this incredible writer. Overall it was a very interesting saga and shows a lot of effort to capture the influence Tolkien’s life had on his writing, and I do think it was successful in doing so. I do though think it lacked some of its own personality and tone which I worry will make it blend in with the sea of other genre films despite its level of quality. But if you are a fan this one is certainly worth a shot.

GRADE: 80%