First off, let me add a bit of perspective before I jump into the actual review of this HBO FILM. Clearly, it helps to know a bit about the actual historical figures that are the main focus of the piece because this picture is not a complete biography of either person of the title but a slice of their lives as they intersected.
Overview: So, consider Ernest Hemingway. Older generations likely watching either remember this literary giant of his day or have at least read a novel or two either for academic or recreational reasons. Such titles of his include “An Old Man and the Sea” and “A Farewell To Arms.” For the younger crowd just think of the “the Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign for Dos Equis beer. You know the one with the lines “mosquitoes don’t bite him out of respect” & “Be Thirsty my Friends.” Yeah, the machismo, bravado and testosterone of that advertising capture the essence of Hemingway exactly. Now, companion him with a women that could match him toe to toe and you have Martha Gellhorn. She was a war correspondent and novelist who ended up being Mr. H’s third wife.
Expectation: My expectations of this film are purely based upon the trailers I have seen and interviews I have read about these characters. I expect a film of passion and violence and how oddly they mix. The relationship we will witness seems to be of lust; the only love seen will be a love of action and danger. It will be passionate yet fleeting. It will be an interestingly combustible relationship to be sure.
Review: Upon watching the HBO FILM I am left a bit overwhelmed by the sight and sound of it all. There are so many places and so many people to take in; it packs a lot of events into one film. But, despite all that, the flow of the movie goes well. I think that is because of the plot gimmick of having Gellhorn speak to us and have the movie play out as a remembrance of hers. I didn’t buy Nicole Kidman’s old-age makeup job however.
What I did buy is the performances. Clive Owen wasn’t a caricature of the man friends called “Papa.” Real emotions beyond machismo were apparent & glimpsed often. When the machismo was on the surface, however, Nicole Kidman’s performance needed to match his muster and it did starting with scene 1 at the Sloppy Joe bar. The good performances went just in the leads. Some movies tend to fall short when supporting and minor characters are the focal point. Not so here as actors like Molly Parker, Robert Duvall, Mark Pelligrino, Peter Coyote, David Strathairn, Tony Shalhoub and, yes even Lars Ulrich held up their end. Again, the performances were dead on.
There were two aspects of the film, however, that did not bowl me over. My first peeve is one that is a common device used in movies that are of an historical theme. It is the practice of, what is the word, “superimposing” the actors into archival footage. Granted it is a great method to use and surely cost effective. In HEMINGWAY AND GELLHORN the couple travels to historic hotbeds around the world. Instead of creating the Spanish Civil War in totality director Phillip Kauffman puts Owen & Kidman into previously shot footage of the actual historic time period. Great, I understand the need for it but I just didn’t see it as a seamless effect. Not enough to ruin the experience but not as smooth as it should have been. The second peeve I had is that the movie is slightly off balance in a way. The movie is more about Martha G. it seems. Ernest H. is slighted in a movie that features both characters in the title.
In conclusion: None of these peeves, as I call them, really ruin the movie as a whole. It successfully captured my attention from start to finish and gave me insight to a unique relationship during a rich historical period. The raw nerves, adrenaline, lust, passion and machismo were all there making it a satisfying through not perfect movie. It also held up to the standards and quality that makes an HBO FILM for me.
Lastly, let me say, that not everyone may enjoy the movie. What I listed as minor peeves may be a bit more annoying for others. I’ll gladly debate with you the finer points of this HBO FILM. Let us at HBOWatch know what you think of HEMINGWAY AND GELLHORN.