Review: J.D. Salinger biopic ‘Rebel in the Rye’ effectively evokes author’s struggles

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The journey of J.D. Salinger from young wiseacre to world-celebrated author and notorious recluse is absorbingly traced in Danny Strong’s “Rebel in the Rye.”

The movie opens in 1939, when budding scribe Jerome “Jerry” Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) takes an inspiring Columbia University writing class from Story magazine editor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey).

The action continues through Salinger’s deeply traumatic stint in World War II, during which he began his novel “The Catcher in the Rye.” His postwar depression, writer’s block, self-sabotage and soul searching eventually give way to completing “Catcher,” which was published in 1951 to unprecedented acclaim and, much to Salinger’s chagrin, serious influence.


As Hoult’s Salinger says here, he was “shackled” by his creation, a state whose social and psychological roots — and subsequent effects — are credibly, dimensionally etched via director Strong’s smart script, based on the book “J.D. Salinger: A Life” by Kenneth Slawenski, and by Hoult’s agile depiction of the gifted, prickly, tortured author.

Impressive production and costume design plus solid supporting turns by Spacey; Hope Davis and Victor Garber as Salinger’s parents; Zoey Deutch as debutante Oona O’Neill; and Sarah Paulson as Salinger’s agent, round out this evocative biopic.


‘Rebel in the Rye’

Rating: PG-13, for some language including sexual references, brief violence, and smoking

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles

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