Directed by: Shane Salerno (“Sundown: The Future of Children and Drugs”)
Written by: Shane Salerno (“Savages”)
In “Salinger,” director Shane Salerno attempts to shed light on the enigmatic and reclusive author J.D. Salinger who is best known for writing “The Catcher in the Rye.” It’s a documentary that has a lot of material, but only portions of it seem of great importance.
The film starts off with a photographer talking about the assignment he had of photographing Salinger, a noted recluse who made his last publication in 1965 and nothing else until his death in 2010. From there, the audience learns about Salinger’s early days as writer, including his dream to be published in The New Yorker, his time spent fighting in World War II, and his vast relationships. The film is at its best when it digs a little deeper into his reclusiveness and discusses his later regret for publishing “The Catcher in the Rye.” It’s also interesting when the film briefly covers the negative influence his novel had on the public, being cited as an influence in the murder of three people, most notably the assassination of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman. Unfortunately, Salinger’s thoughts on the Lennon murder (or any other murders attributed to his novel) are never explored. Another one of the more intriguing sections of the film is about Salinger’s continuation of writing with a reluctance to publish, which adds to his mystique. The film, however, begins to teeter in the moments when the focus turns to some aspects about his personal life. It’s a notable fact that he tended to be attracted to younger women that he would then drive away, but it feels unnecessary to spend large chunks of time and depth going into each relationship that went sour.
The biggest problem with “Salinger” is that it is a poorly-constructed film. It is completely non-linear in its presentation, jumping back and forth between decades with frustrating regularity. The film makes use of tons of interviews, which often feel stitched together. For example, sometimes in the middle of interviews, the subjects are seen in different clothes or locations at random. The film is also two hours long and overstays its welcome. It’s almost as if director Salerno thought that every little bit of information that was spoken about Salinger was worthy of spending time on, which isn’t the case.
The film also takes a great deal of time with writers, actors, and friends of Salinger waxing about how brilliant, influential and important of a writer he was. The problem, however, is nearly no attention is paid to why he is considered one of the greatest writers in modern history. Sure, they do a recount of most of his works and say a few words about how those works were received by the public, but there is nothing to be said about his writing style, his characterizations, or any in-depth explanation about why his writing made him so highly regarded. There’s some good material here, but shoddy technical elements, an extended runtime and a lack of focus on Salinger’s writing itself makes “Salinger” just miss the mark.