Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hemingway and Gellhorn

Anyone see “Hemingway and Gellhorn” yet? I don’t subscribe to HBO, but they must have had a free preview a couple weekends ago because I was able to snag it on the ol’ DVR. Now that I’ve had a chance to watch it, I thought I’d weigh in with my thoughts.

As the title suggests, the film is a biopic on Hemingway and his third wife, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Clive Owen plays the role of Hem, while Nicole Kidman plays Gellhorn. Both are about 10-15 years older than the real Hemingway and Gellhorn were when the actual events took place. But Kidman, I think, still manages to pull of a youthful look. Owen… not so much. More on that later. The supporting cast include Robert Duvall, David Strathairn, Parker Posey and a surprisingly obese Jeffrey Jones (picture Edward R. Rooney with about 80 lbs too many.)

The movie takes us to Key West, Cuba, Ketchum and even China, but focuses for the most part on what I think is the most captivating period of Hemingway’s life: his involvement in the Spanish Civil War and his documentation of it in For Whom the Bell Tolls,  and in the short propoganda film, “The Spanish Earth.”  (If you haven’t read FWtBT,  repent forthwith, and if you haven’t watched the film he helped write and narrate, go here.)

But make no mistake, this is Gellhorn’s story. Hemingway is continually portrayed as an overbearing, sexist lout- all of which he probably was. But you won’t find any of Gellhorn’s well-documented infidelities in the film. Her story feels a little too white-washed. When an assignment from Collier’s takes her to China, no mention is made of Hemingway’s own credentials with PM magazine, or his post as an intelligence officer for the US Treasury Department. The viewer just assumes he’s tagging along on her assignment and resenting her for it. In another scene Hemingway is shown practically raping her backstage in order to “feel like a man” and overcome a bout of stage fright before speaking. Gellhorn is then called out on stage for impromptu remarks which outshine Hemingway’s in every way.

At other points he is shown flying off the handle for no apparent reason and challenging a Communist General to a game of Russian Roulette. He stabs people in the back, rides roughshod over everyone in his path. And I don’t know how they did it, but they made Clive Owen appear tired, pasty, sniveling and frumpy. Hemingway is no doubt far from perfect, but the continual pile-on just didn’t ring true.

Don’t get me wrong, I came out of this movie with a desire to know so much more about Gellhorn and her life, but I felt that they gratuitously “over-caricatured”  Hemingway to provide a compelling foil for her. Too many pot shots at an easy target.

Anybody else see it? Anyone disagree?

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