Movie review: Salinger

By Peter Calder

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Salinger disqualifies itself from being taken seriously.
Salinger disqualifies itself from being taken seriously.

Well, whaddaya know? The author of a 1951 novel that has sold 65 million copies (and still sells about 250,000 a year) lived like a hermit for 50 of the next 60 years. And during that time (spoiler alert) he wrote stuff.

The book, of course, is The Catcher in the Rye and the writer J. D. Salinger, who died in January 2010, leaving instructions for the publication of five new books between now and 2020.

This "news" is the great revelation of this ponderous windbag of a film, even though Salinger told the New York Times in 1974 that he was "writing, long hours, every day". Salerno sententiously announces that the new books "will be the masterworks for which [Salinger] will be for ever known", but one is moved to ask: how do you know when you haven't read them?

Four biographers and the author of a book called The Truth About J.D. Salinger are extensively interviewed, which makes it seem to be waving a white flag from the first frame. By the time it talks to actors (Martin Sheen tells us "it's a phenomenon") and details the specious cliches about famous assassins who loved the book, it has disqualified itself from being taken seriously.

Salingerphiles will find some arcana of interest here, not all of it substantial: it shows for the first time the only moving footage of the writer-soldier at war; less edifyingly, it tells us that he may have had only one testicle.

But its visual literal-mindedness is deeply dispiriting: a report of a meeting that Salinger stormed out of is accompanied by a shot of a slamming door; a Salinger lookalike types at a table in front of a cinema screen on which war footage plays to explain to us that his battlefield experience scarred him.

All this plays over a soundtrack that belongs in a film about shark attacks, which is sort of what this film is. At its best, it's offensive; at it's worst, it's a joke.

Stars: 2/5
Director: Shane Salerno
Running time: 129 mins
Rating: M (war footage)
Verdict: Ponderous and borderline offensive doco about Catcher In the Rye author

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