Academic instructor, John Malcolm Brinnin, appeals to a committee to bring famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, to America and put him on a literary tour. Dylan’s volatile nature proves to be more than what Brinnin can bare, so he takes Dylan to a remote cabin in an attempt to get him ready for his tour. The next few days together prove to be challenging and life affirming for both men.
I’m going to cut to the chase and say that I am culturally inept. I appreciate many forms art and literature, but my knowledge of the varying forms and artists is minimal. So, when a screener for “Set Fire to the Stars” landed in my inbox and I read that it was a semi-biographical film on the lives of John M. Brinnin and Dylan Thomas, my initial response was, “Who?”
It’s amazing how I manage to survive each day.
In an attempt to bring the beloved and well regarded Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, to the American people — and to satisfy his own fanatical obsession — John Brinnan appeals to the board members of his University to endorse an American tour for Thomas. After hesitantly agreeing, Brinnan now finds his hands full while trying to watch over the unrestrained and unpredictable mad poet. Due to his declining health, Brinnan takes Thomas to a cabin in the woods to help him recover and in order to get him prepared for his tour. The next few days in the woods challenge both men as they come to terms with life and what they seek from it.
Not knowing who John M. Brinnin and Dylan Thomas were — more specifically, Dylan Thomas — may have actually played to my advantage, as “Set Fire to the Stars” hasn’t been too well received since critics believe the movie did capture the true nature of Thomas. Obviously a claim I cannot be for or against, but, as a casual viewer, I like to think I was still able to enjoy the intended purpose of “Set Fire to the Stars” — a poetical interpretation of appreciating what life has to offer. Whether it be good or bad.
This is normally a movie I would have skipped over because of my lack of knowledge of the material, but the screenshots provided in the presskit piqued my interest, and I’m glad it did. “Set Fire to the Stars” is a gorgeous movie to watch. The visuals, perhaps, aren’t as interesting as some of the films we’ve covered in the past, but the choices made with the cinematography creates an elegant and beautiful presentation. The monochromatic color palette, along with simple camera movements, give the movie a romantic and almost fantasy like quality to the movie. It serves as a great complimentary piece to the poetic atmosphere of the film.
It’s what drove my investment in the movie since, unfortunately, the actual narrative and structure of the movie puts itself into a bit of a rut. “Set Fire to the Stars” is about the few days spent between the two main characters before the start of Thomas’s American tour. In those days, most of the time is spent with Brinnin trying to understand who Thomas is and how he as able to capture life in his poetry. A great concept, but this is where the movie loses itself. The scenes often degenerate to shots of Elijah Wood (Brinnin) staring off camera, emotionally, or to scenes of Celyn Jones (Thomas) responding to questions with lyrical riddles. Jones gives a phenomenal performance as the emotionally volatile Thomas, and the chemistry between Jones and Wood is great. It is unfortunate that most of their scenes are repetitive and formulaic.
Those scenes are the only thing holding “Set Fire to the Stars” back from being something great, but it doesn’t stop the film from being good. Again, perhaps what others say about the movie is right — that it’s not a movie for Dylan Thomas fans. That’s not a point I can comfortably discuss, but in general, I think it’s a movie worth checking out because it still offers something for the viewers. Fittingly, the movie offers a satisfying poetic outlook on life — the ups and downs — which is exemplified by the stellar cinematography and sound design. “Set Fire to the Stars” may not always meet the demands of the viewers, but it’s still a well made and enjoyable movie.