Director: Philip Kaufman
There’s an occasional camp madness to Hemingway & Gellhorn – but I still rather liked the story, and often liked the way it was told. Clive Owen isn’t right as Papa Hemingway; he has the look down – but he doesn’t quite do it. He’s a good actor, but only if he’s playing Clive Owen. This was just too much of a stretch. Nicole Kidman on the other hand is close to career-best as Martha Gellhorn; she’s less the dead-ringer in her role than Owen is in his but she gets Gellhorn and gets to her using, particularly, her voice.
The film, a TV-movie commissioned for HBO and now available to the world on DVD, tells the story of their rather fiery, fierce, ultimately doomed romance. Hemingway was already a literary star – Gellhorn a celebrated journalist. This romance was Hem’s third marriage. It lasted just five years and played out over battlefields. The film is almost at pains to suggest the pair were cool, calm and collected in the face of real war it was real life where things got violent and territorial. Well, it’s a nice paradox isn’t it – you can see why Philip Kaufman (a fan of retelling novels and the biographical stories of literary figures) wanted to head in that direction. He slips a few truths in too – so that keeps it from teetering over into full madness.
But there are some ludicrous moments – such as the casting of Robert Duvall, wasted as a Russian army officer, Tony Shaloub pops up in that scene too and even now I can bet he’s not exactly sure why.
And then – what should, on paper, make you laugh but actually isn’t a big deal at all, is the casting of Lars Ulrich. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s pretty good – but he does play a smug-seeming film-director, a hopeful control freak, ever so slightly pretentious and sure that he’s smarter than he is. Well, anyone familiar with Metallica’s career and more than one Ulrich interview will perhaps see this acting choice/role as no great stretch.
I never thought I’d like a film because it had Nicole Kidman in it – not since BMX Bandits anyway. And I never thought I’d be recommending it based, mostly, on the fact that Kidman was (so) good but that’s almost what it comes down to with Hemingway & Gellhorn. That and there’s something of a cautionary tale in this film. It is too long but it is often compelling – even with a few howlers in the script and a director too pleased with himself for making what he figures are subtle compare/contrast moments between war and real life, between female and male approaches to writing and fame. And life.
You have to feel sorry for Gellhorn too – if she wasn’t a better writer than Hemingway she was certainly better at her kind of writing but he was the famous one. She was only ever second fiddle in the relationship. And in the world of writing – or so we’re told.
We’re missing a proper dissection of Hemingway’s character – but a proper acting performance in that role might have helped for a start. But in Gellhorn – and Kidman’s portrayal – we have a lot to grab onto; a lot to sink our teeth into. For that I reckon this film is worth it.
And it is an interesting story. In part, at least.