Movie review of “Genius”: Colin Firth plays editor Maxwell Perkins — whose protégés included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe — in this fact-based drama that tries but fails to make editing cinematic. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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At the heart of “Genius,” a fact-based drama set in the late-1920s/early-1930s New York publishing world, is this truth: Editing is, alas, not cinematic.

In the film, Colin Firth plays the great editor Maxwell Perkins, whose protégés included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe — and if your idea of heaven is watching Firth quietly make marks with a red pencil while correcting the grammar of those around him, have I got a movie for you. So buttoned-up that he wears a fedora seemingly 24 hours a day, Perkins is depicted here as a sort of literary saint; a calm man endlessly patient with his writers’ capriciousness. Indeed, he seems to have only one facial expression, which he wears as regularly as that hat: a sort of mild interest, overlaid with an ever-so-faint whiff of amusement.

To spare us from spending 104 minutes wondering why Perkins never takes his hat off (though I did), “Genius” gives us a foil for him: Wolfe, played by Jude Law as if he’s perpetually drunk, even when he isn’t. The author of “Look Homeward, Angel” and “Of Time and the River” appears here as a feral-eyed Southern madman who writes standing up, scribbling wildly, and whose personal life is a swirling mess, in precise contrast to Perkins’ sedate suburban family home. The two, nonetheless, become literary partners, busily whittling down Wolfe’s latest massive manuscript and arguing about adjectives.

Movie Review ★★  

‘Genius,’ with Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Guy Pearce, Dominic West. Directed by Michael Grandage, from a screenplay by John Logan, based on the biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive content. Several theaters.

Meanwhile, Hemingway (Dominic West) goes fishing and Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) begs for money and frets about Zelda, and the whole thing starts to feel like the comic-book version of Twentieth-Century American Literature 101, dramatized for a mysteriously high-end British/Australian road company. If you squint, you can see the thoughtful prestige drama that screenwriter John Logan and director Michael Grandage were trying to make, but it’s lost in a thicket of stereotypes and metaphors. (“I’ve been edited,” sighs Wolfe’s married lover Aline Bernstein, played by Nicole Kidman, when he dumps her.) You wish Perkins would have shown up with his red pencil during the screenwriting stage, when he might have done some good.