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Review: Rebel in the Rye (Sundance) starring Nicholas Hoult

Rebel in the Rye (Sundance) starring Nicholas Hoult
01.27.2017
6 10

PLOT: The life of author J.D Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), from his early years as a student of Columbia lecturer Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), through his war years, to the publication of “The Catcher in the Rye.”

REVIEW: Is there an American novel that’s been more widely read than "The Catcher in the Rye?". A staple of high school curricula all over the world, reading this book is a rite of passage, with the theme of modern alienation striking a chord with readers for over sixty years. What makes the book even more of a classic is its status as J.D Salinger’s only published novel, with him, despite having lived to a ripe old age, never publishing another book before his death in 2010.

nicholas hoult rebel in the rye

His life was recently well-documented by the Shane Salerno documentary, SALINGER, and REBEL IN THE RYE very much plays out like a feature-adaptation of it, although it frustratingly ends the story as Salinger goes into seclusion. More insight into his later years, or at least what we know about them, would have been even more intriguing.

As such, REBEL IN THE RYE is very much your traditional biopic, with Nicholas Hoult’s Salinger loving and losing, and learning important lessons on the way to becoming a great author. The directorial debut of Danny Strong, who wrote HBO’s GAME CHANGE and RECOUNT, as well as being the co-creator (with Lee Daniels) of “Empire”, this is a safe celebration of a complicated man. It’ll certainly appeal to those still enthralled with the author’s late legacy, but a deeper exploration would have turned this into something more than it is.

In the lead, Hoult is relatively good. While his imitation of Salinger’s cadence comes and goes (it’s very thick whenever in voice-over), and he doesn’t especially resemble Salinger, he displays the right mix of ego and genius. Much is made about how the war changed him, and that probably could have been given a film treatment of its own. Here, it comes off as a little more episodic, although flashes of Salinger being present at the liberation of Dauchau are effective.

Strong’s also pulled together a good supporting cast, with Kevin Spacey giving a subtle, enjoyable performance as Burnett, who’s used and discarded by Salinger when he disapoints him. Zoey Deutch has a small part as Oona O’Neil (Eugene’s daughter), a debutante who broke the real Salinger’s heart, while Sarah Paulson plays his acid-tongued literary agent, and Hope Davis and Victor Garber play his folks.

Put together, REBEL IN THE RYE feels more like an HBO film that a real, big-screen feature - not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that. It’s straightforward and hits all the expected notes, although it’s frustrating that the film is winding-down just as it starts to get really interesting, when Salinger is pursued by Holden Caulfield wannabes, a weird aspect that persisted for years (John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, was among those obsessed with the novel). This is a fine movie if you want to learn a bit about Salinger and his craft, but don’t expect to come away with any real insight into his psyche. As far as biopics go this is surface-level.

Source: JoBlo.com

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