Movie Information

Tasteful writing and directing, plus Nicholas Hoult’s strong lead performance make this better than the average literary biopic.
Genre: Biopic/Drama
Director: Dome Karukoski
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Derek Jacobi
Rated: PG-13

A respectful portrait of the writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a young man, Tolkien doesn’t change the literary biopic game but stands apart from much of its competition as a well-made, honorable presentation of the author’s formative years.

The latest feature from Finnish director Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland) also takes certain noncorny approaches regarding geniuses and their inspirations that more entries in this subgenre would be wise to follow, though the rarity of risks on display and the fairly tidy overall package in which Tolkien is wrapped unfortunately keeps the film firmly in safe cinematic territory.

Two years after playing J.D. Salinger in the insulting and unimaginative Rebel in the Rye, Nicholas Hoult finds a movie about an iconic fiction-penning, PTSD-suffering war veteran worthy of his talents.

Whether debating art and life with his three devoted school chums, endearing himself to love-interest Edith Bratt (Lily Collins, Mirror Mirror), or reflecting on his time with these cherished individuals during the Battle of the Somme, Hoult’s Tolkien is a deeply appealing figure and one for whom viewers wish nothing but success — perhaps to a fault.

Compensating for his lack of depth are the real-world experiences and emotions that will color Tolkien’s beloved fantasy stories, decrying the notion that creativity is rooted in a simple one-to-one correlation with autobiography.

Were the regal, no-fuss filmmaking willing to match the script’s daringness, Tolkien might be something truly special, but in its current form, it’s still well worth seeing.

Opens May 10 at the Fine Arts Theatre

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA).

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