Thursday, May 9, 2019

Want to learn about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien? Try Dome Karukoski's quietly compelling film

I think by now we know, when we watch a bio-pic (about almost anyone at all) that facts are going to be fudged and events and characters telescoped into whatever needs the filmmakers think they face. So it is with the new movie about the life of fabled author, South African-born J.R.R. Tolkien, who was educated in and lived most of his life on British soil.

Prior to the actual screening of the film, as the audience at a preview event sat waiting, on the screen flashed the history of this man in maybe a dozen or so individual written installments. But then, of course, the movie that followed this did not always adhere to the historical timeline we were given just moments before that movie began screening.

Still, TOLKIEN, written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and directed by Dome Karukoski (shown at right, of Tom of Finland fame), proves consistently interesting and, as it slowly moves along, finally pretty compelling. Tolkien's real-life tale is mostly quiet and rather sad, with he and his younger brother orphaned at a relatively early age and placed in the care of a Catholic priest. And though the movie is being billed as rather a love story, it's the relationship between Tolkien and his three much-loved school chums (below) that finally raises the movie's temperature and major emotions.

Tolkien is played -- quite well, too -- by Nicholas Hoult (above, left, and below), while those chums are essayed by Anthony Boyle (center left), Patrick Gibson (center right) and Tom Glynn-Carney (right), each of whom makes his character specific and as memorable as possible, given their limited screen time.

The love interest is played (as an adult) by Lily Collins (below), who is pretty but a bit wan here (she registers much more strongly in Netflix's new Ted Bundy movie, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile). The romance is shown to be important in Tolkien's life, yet the movie comes to strongest life in the scenes between Tolkien and his mates,

and in the marvelous entry of Derek Jacobi, below, right, as the Oxford professor who mentors our hero (according to what we see here, the two men seems to have mentored each other). Jacobi's lengthy and delicious monolog about trees proves the movie's consummate treat -- as intelligent and witty as it is germane to Tolkien and his work.

The movie is at its weakest whenever the filmmakers decide they must show us the connections (as below) between the man and his writing, with really pretty silly images of dragons and monsters (which of course will bring to mind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). Yes, World War I was awful and, yes, the man was influenced by it, but what we get here is obvious, clunky and unnecessary.

Visually, the movie is often quite verdant and lovely (as below), and Karukoski and his cinematographer (Lasse Frank Johannessen) also capture some images of the war that are startling and darkly memorable.

Overall, the slow pace of the film probably means it will appeal mostly to folk who don't mind this lack of action and of course to those fans of Peter Jackson's hit films who might like to know more about the life of the interesting guy who created the initial work.

In any case, Tolkien, via Fox Searchlight and running 112 minutes, opens nationwide tomorrow, Friday, May 10. To find the theater(s) nearest you, simply click here.

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