Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi
Director: Dome Karukoski
When you think of the life of J. R. R. Tolkien, you more than likely of his career writing some of greatest novels of the last century such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. A movie about the life of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers sounds interesting right from the jump, but this isn’t the movie you’re thinking of when you picture that movie in your head. While Hoult is fantastic as Tolkien, a movie about everything leading up to Tolkien’s writings instead of a story about the writings themselves keep Tolkien from reaching that next level of success that it was looking for.
The film follows J. R. R. Tolkien (Hoult) from his time as a child up through his time at university and eventually showing us his time fighting in World War I. At his very nature, Tolkien is an interesting protagonist to follow, so Hoult had plenty of material to work with and makes the most of it. Hoult appears as captivating as Tolkien and captivates the audience through his mannerisms and speech. When you play a character as intelligent as Tolkien, you truly have to make the audience believe you are equally as smart or the film will fall flat. Fortunately, Hoult’s scenes telling Tolkien’s stories and speaking in his languages come about flawlessly and let the audience know Hoult was the right choice. Hoult has a promising career ahead of him and I’m curious what will happen when he gets a leading role in a more critically-acclaimed movie. Outside of Hoult though, the film’s story really falls flat and doesn’t provide the support to show a truly interesting premise. I think the audience will agree that the more interesting part of Tolkien’s life happened after this film ends and we’d like to learn more about the creation of works and less about his time at boarding school. I do think the scenes depicting World War I were important as those events not only shaped his life but his works as well, but I don’t think the first thing we think of when thinking of J. R. R. Tolkien is him sneaking around as a teenager with his girlfriend Edith (Collins) or him stumbling drunk around his college campus. I’d be much more interested in learning about the life of Tolkien after his success and how the horrors of war impacted him throughout his writing career. If this means shifting Hoult to a smaller role to get an older actor to play an adult Tolkein then I have no issue with that as it may produce a stronger story. This is Karukoski’s English-film debut as all of his previous films had been released in his native Finish language. For a debut to American audiences, Karukoski has shown us he can direct amazing performances from his actors, and considering he didn’t write this script, we can give him a bit of a pass as it seems like this premise wasn’t solely his idea. In an industry littered with biopics that captivate audiences, Tolkein wastes an interesting subject matter and strong lead performance on a story that starts and ends in the wrong spot.
Overall, when you make a movie about a man who wrote about battles and dragons and wizards, you expect it to be as epic as his tales were. The scenes of the horrors of World War I fit that description, but high school kids sitting around a table drinking tea and talking about art? Yeah that doesn’t do it for me. Hoult was wise to pick this role as it gives him more mainstream exposure in a leading role, but Tolkein just isn’t quite there to create an atmosphere that will have audiences running out to go see it.
Overall Score: 5.5/10