Released September 15
You probably know Danny Strong for his acting, having appeared in film and television since the mid 1990’s in shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Billions and Empire, and in films such as The Hunger Games and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Strong also co-wrote the script for The Butler and the screenplay for Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 and 2. In April 2014, he took on his first directing project. He bought the rights the non-fiction biography J.D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenki, with his own money, and wrote the adaptation himself, for this movie, eventually titled Rebel in the Rye.
This is a heartfelt telling of the story of one of the literary giants of the 20th century, a writer who embodied the trauma and the angst of the generation who came of age during WWII. Salinger grew up in an era of sociological change during the mid- and late 20th century. He created a unique “voice” to communicate the ethos and pathos of a generation under siege, a voice which has resonated with teens and young adults ever since. As a writer myself, the film hits home in its portrayal of concepts underlying the urge to create. The ideas that drive this story are the underpinning to Salinger’s essence as a human being. For those who are not writers the film will parallel the angst we feel as we struggle to comprehend the immense political upheavals in our own world.
Strong’s background as an actor must have been instrumental in the excellent casting choices he and casting director Avy Kaufman made, and in the superb performances his actors achieved. British thespian Nicholas Hoult, who has been acting since childhood in film and TV, succeeded in making the introspective, sarcastic and irascible Salinger fascinating to watch. Lucy Boynton, an American actress who grew up in the UK and turned in a strong performance in last year’s “sleeper” film Sing Street, is excellent here as Salinger’s young wife. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Salinger’s creative writing professor at Columbia and longtime mentor and muse. Spacey endows the character with nuanced emotions and transforms flawlessly from inspirational crusader to wounded and forgotten counselor.
In spite of touching on only the “tip of the iceberg” of Salinger’s life, there are flashes of brilliance that bring this movie alive. Dreamlike sequences that may or may not portray Salinger’s pivotal character “Holden Caulfield” suggest that the identity of the author is embedded in that character. Don’t miss one of the greatest takes on celebrity worship parties ever done. The montage is only a couple of minutes long. It’s spot on in accuracy, awash in Salinger-like sarcasm, and hilarious to anyone who has attended such parties.
There is much more detail to Salinger’s later life that is left untouched in this story. By the end of the film you will feel that you comprehend the soul of this complex, troubled, penetrating author. Yet you are still left with the aura of mystery that surrounds the man himself, which is probably how Salinger would have wanted it.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com