Brilliant ‘End of the Tour’ examines minds of writers
By Bob Bloom
“The End of the Tour” is an exceptional feature that takes you inside the psyche and insecurities that cling to a writer like barnacles to a rusty ship.
The movie centers on author David Foster Wallace whose 1,000-plus page novel, “Infinite Jest,” created a sensation that spread beyond the literary world after it was published in 1996.
The movie takes place over five days during Wallace’s book tour when “Rolling Stone” reporter David Lipsky interviews the reluctant writer.
As portrayed by Jason Segel, Wallace is a sensitive soul, who is concerned about how people will perceive him. He does not want to come off as pretentious and wants people to see him as a regular guy who just happened to get lucky with his book.
Segel gives a quiet performance that, though a bit understated, allows glimpses of a man determined to avoid stereotyping. Segel shows the conflict within Wallace who is unsure of what face to present to his public.
The actor, best known for his comic roles, gives a most sincere performance. His Wallace is very protective of his image. When asked about the bandanna he wears on his head, he becomes defensive, giving an explanation, then wondering if people will think it’s an affectation and view him as a phony.
Jesse Eisenberg also offers a strong presentation as Lipsky. He has his own agenda for pushing his editor into allowing him to interview Wallace. Eisenberg is adept at displaying a quiet aggression that he uses as Lipsky in an attempt to burrow beneath Wallace’s protective shell.
Lipsky also had a novel published in 1996, but it failed to get the recognition that was heaped on Wallace’s. He is a mixture of jealousy and curiosity. He wants to vicariously witness the trappings of the success that eluded him, and yet he also somehow wants Wallace to validate him as a serious author.
In a sense, “The End of the Tour” is a cerebral cat-and-mouse exercise in which two strong-willed men politely duel — for the most part — to control how Wallace will be portrayed in the article.
The challenge to the viewer is guessing how honest each man is, as well as who can wheedle the most information from the other.
The irony of the film, directed by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now,” “Smashed”), is that Lipsky’s interview was never published and his tapes were filed away. They resurfaced after Wallace’s suicide in 2008, when Lipsky wrote a book about their five days together
Writer Donald Margulies uses subtlety to hint at the melancholia inside Wallace. But he is wise enough not to blatantly foreshadow his eventual fate.
Though it may seem that the film is merely about two guys shooting the bull, “The End of the Tour” is really a compelling character study of young men with different outlooks on fame and celebrity and how they try to use each other to either garner or avoid it.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
THE END OF THE TOUR
4 stars out of 4
(R), language, sexual references