Movie Review: Tolkien (2019)

The Lord Of The Rings novels are among the most beloved epics ever created. The gratifying movie Tolkien reviews the early life of their creator and shows how the author’s love of language and World War I influenced his eventual masterpieces.

Directed by Dome Karukoski, Tolkien stars Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. Hoult plays J.R.R. Tolkien. Collins portrays his eventual wife, Edith Bratt. Starting from his youth as an orphan, the film explores his education and service in World War I. To tell the story, a non-linear timeline depicts his life by interspersing the writer’s young adulthood with his journey through No Man’s Land at the Somme.

Hoult (who audiences recently saw wearing heavy layers of makeup in last year’s Oscar-nominated The Favourite) is terrific as the cerebral scholar. His performance allows Karukoski to interweave a vivid tapestry throughout the move that relays Tolkien’s imagination.

Nichols Hoult in Tolkien
Nichols Hoult in Tolkien

That scenery appears at different times throughout the film: Lily Collins dances in the woods, the author lays in an Oxford common, and even through images on his bedroom wall. It also comes across in the brutal trench warfare of World War One. Karukoski’s team did an excellent job of creating trippy sequences during each scene. Dragons, Sauron, and clashing knights are expertly dropped into 1916.

The aspect of Tolkien’s life that is most important to the film (and The Lord Of The Rings) is the story of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (T.C.B.S.). The group was a brotherhood of Oxbridge friends who pledged to save the world through art. Karukoski builds up the innocence of the pre-war group. Additionally, he depicts how shattering the war was to the friends and that generation.

Tolkien succeeds in what it attempts to do: give a flavor and appreciation for the author’s experiences. Karukoski primarily accomplishes this through well-chosen storytelling. The film is just under two hours long. It sticks to the primary stories of fellowship, love, and the atrocities of war. There is no excess that slipped past the editing room and the movie remains captivating throughout.

Karukoski also accomplishes this feat through a vibrant color palate. The brilliance of the colors employed onscreen allows the film to transition seamlessly between Oxford and the  Somme. It also serves as the canvas for Tolkien’s imagination. This provides the audience with a visually-stunning correlation between the tragedies of combat and the beauty of Tolkien’s mind.

The film is highly-recommended for fans of The Lord Of The Rings, whether they are hooked by Tolkien’s books or Peter Jackson’s trilogy. It will also find a sympathetic audience for moviegoers willing to immerse themselves in the beautiful and tragic world of the author who gave so much to popular culture.

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