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With: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Tom Glynn-Carney, Craig Roberts, Harry Gilby, Adam Bregman, Albie Marber, Ty Tennant, Laura Donnelly, Genevieve O'Reilly, Pam Ferris
Written by: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Directed by: Dome Karukoski
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of war violence
Running Time: 112
Date: 05/10/2019

Tolkien (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hobbit Forming

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins are likable enough in the centerpiece roles, but this polite, cautious biopic can't compare with the real-life imagination that brought about Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and the rest.

In Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien (Hoult) is in the trenches of World War I when he gets word that his friend Geoffrey is nearby and in trouble. Tolkien flashes back to his school days, where he begins as a lonely, orphaned outcast, but quickly meets three other like-minded boys, Geoffrey, Robert, and Christopher. They form a secret society, and their friendship grows throughout the years. In his foster home, Tolkien falls in love with Edith, and their romance likewise blossoms over time.

Trouble comes when Tolkien goes off to college, and Edith (Collins) — without many prospects of her own — becomes engaged to another man. Tolkien struggles to maintain his scholarship, and finds his place with Prof. Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi) in the languages department. Then, war breaks out, and Tolkien returns to a very different life. But his dream of storytelling has just begun.

Perhaps screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and director Dome Karukoski took on a little too much material with Tolkien — the war, the romance, and the friendships — or focused on the wrong places (it only marginally explores the actual writing of The Hobbit). The war footage is numbingly typical, with the same rattling explosions and muddy splotches on actors' faces. Perhaps less time could have been devoted to that and more to Tolkien's friendships.

These seem to have been important, but between the long period of time covered, the various actors playing the roles at different ages, and the limited amount of time we spend with them, they never come to life, and indeed seem rather interchangeable.

However, the scenes between Tolkien and Edith are often charming, and Collins is given more to do than this kind of biopic love-interest role usually provides; she challenges him and gets him thinking in fresh ways. Moreover, she seems to have her own likes and wants and aspirations; it's too bad the film couldn't have zeroed in on these two. Or perhaps Tolkien's two hours just isn't enough to tell the life story of someone with so much to say.

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