Colin Firth stars as book editor Maxwell Perkins, who helped shape some of America’s finest literary works

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In a summertime of superheroes and sequels, “Genius” dives headfirst into the explosive world of early 20th century book editing.

The “Genius” of the film’s title is Maxwell Perkins, the New York editor who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and helped shape some of the most important works in American literature. Perkins is played by Colin Firth, who in all his Firthiness plays Perkins as a quiet, level-headed but stern collaborator.

That’s in stark contrast to Wolfe (Jude Law), the loudest, most brash blowhard in the room. That may well have been Wolfe, but Law’s untethered portrayal is an absurd example of overacting run amok, and he very nearly sinks the film.

“Genius” focuses on the almost father-son relationship between Perkins and Wolfe and champions the role of Perkins in getting Wolfe’s works down to manageable lengths. An early draft of “Of Time and the River” weighs in at a massive 5,000 pages, 80 of which are spent describing a man standing on a train platform. “That is, perhaps, gilding the lily a bit,” Perkins tells his student. He slashes his prose with his red pencil, which Wolfe treats like knives to his sternum.

Director Michael Grandage’s film is less successful dealing with the women in their lives, as Perkins’ wife Louise (Laura Linney) and Wolfe’s girlfriend Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) are painted with broad strokes as patient and crazy, respectively.

“Genius” deals with the creative ego, its trappings and the need everyone has for an editor. Even actors need editors, a lesson Law should take to heart.

agraham@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Genius’

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive content

Running time: 104 minutes

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