26 June 2012

Hemingway & Gellhorn

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn

I usually have mixed feelings about films that feature historical figures especially if they are people whom I admire. Like other moviegoers, I want to be entertained but am concerned about how far the filmmakers stray from the truth (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Not so worried if they got their facts straight.) I waited a long time to see Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris for example because of my interest in the Lost Generation. Fortunately Woody did not let me down (review here). But Philip Kaufman is another story.

I just finished watching Kaufman's Hemingway & Gellhorn, which purports to tell the tale of the great romance between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn whose attraction to each other couldn't overcome their professional rivalry. I was willing to overlook a certain amount of factual inaccuracies; this wasn't a documentary after all. I also realize that having spent years at school studying and writing about Hemingway I'm probably never going to be completely happy with any actor's portrayal of Papa. But Hemingway & Gellhorn was a major disappointment from the cringeworthy dialogue scattered throughout the film to the unbelievable coincidences (the two just happen to witness Robert Capa shoot his famous "Falling Soldier" photo) to some scenes toward the end that were just in poor taste (Kidman's face superimposed over the bodies of Holocaust victims) and unnecessary (did they have to show Hemingway's suicide?). Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman are both fine actors who I usually enjoy watching but not in this film. Owen seems to have incorporated every Hemingway stereotype out there and doesn't really seem to believe what he's saying (how could he with dialogue like that?) while Kidman works overtime to appear tough as nails with the result that she just looks like she's trying too hard. Both performances ring false. And don't get me started on how some of the supporting characters like John Dos Passos and Mary Welsh Hemingway were treated.

Want to know about Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn? Read their books. It's the best way to get to know these two fascinating people who regardless of their flaws deserve a better treatment than this one.

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