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‘Tolkien’ Review: Finnish Director Dome Karukoski Breathes Life Into the Story of One of the Literature Giants of Our Time

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Director Dome Karukoski is a master of warm-hearted detail. Here he is adjusting the hand position of J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) and Edith Bratt (Lily Collins). Picture: David Appleby

Finnish director Dome Karukoski takes you on a wonderful journey to the life of the British author J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), before his works of literature that would entertain millions and that were later adapted on the silver screen to entertain millions more.

The epic film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) united families at Christmas. Later, during The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014), Tolkien’s imagination inspired the fans to dress into hobbits, dwarfs, elves—while the most dedicated enthusiasts put on the long, grey beard of wizard Gandalf as they slept in close groups in small tents behind the cinema of Tennispalatsi in Helsinki’s Kamppi district.

By helming the biopic of Tolkien, Karukoski becomes the first Finnish Hollywood director since Renny Harlin, who made his breakthrough in the late ‘80s. (You may or may not know him from directing Die Hard 2!)

Karukoski’s previous Finnish works in the past few years, Tom of Finland (2017), the tale of the famous Finnish gay artist, and Heart of a Lion (2013), a neo-Nazi family drama, have attracted international attention as well for what they essentially are: brilliant, warm-hearted films that portray human relations honestly.

Karukoski is a master of balancing sensitivity and toughness with vivid, warm scenes. After improving the original script of Tolkien he does exactly that but now with a Hollywood budget and actors. (Karukoski initially refused to direct the film but after given free hands by the production company Fox Searchlight, he decided to go for it.)

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British actor Nicholas Hoult plays J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember Hoult from his child actor days in About a Boy (2002) and in his later years I have seen him as the Beast in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

In his role as Tolkien, the viewer gets to share Hoult’s awe-inspired take on the author’s early years, of which Hoult— even though devouring the words of The Hobbit on the set of About a Boy at the age of 11—knew nothing about.

Lily Collins, English-American actress who plays Tolkien’s sweetheart Edith, said previously that it was fascinating to watch Hoult and Karukoski share the excitement of creating scenes together. (Collins is known from Mirror Mirror (2012) and Love, Rosie (2014). And yes, she’s Phil Collins’ daughter.)

This excitement is vividly present throughout the film, from war scenes to elven dance under the trees. This passion of Karukoski, Collins said, was transferred to the whole crew and, if I may add, is bound to also catch the viewer.

In Tolkien, we learn about the author’s love for languages, and during my research, it became clear that he was fascinated by Finnish.

Karukoski treats this fact with Finnish modesty.

Instead of highlighting Tolkien’s fascination with the language, he takes a more cool-headed perspective reminding the audience that Tolkien was in fact interested in many languages.

This humble approach is the essence of Karukoski’s work. He’s more interested in the big picture, the story and the scenes, than about forcing an opinion just to seem important.

Karukoski is more concerned about pulling out the best performances of the cast while pacing the film into a tearful climax and a warm smile.

‘Tolkien’ in cinemas on May 3.

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About The Author

Tony Öhberg

The founder. Reporter and photojournalist. Salesman. Fluent in three languages. Pushing a career in journalism spanning two decades. Always looking for opportunities to tell another story.

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