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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hemingway & Gellhorn

I'm not sure who decided Clive Owen would make a good Ernest Hemingway. In Hemingway & Gellhorn, which chronicles the author's relationship with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, Owen often looks more like Groucho Marx than the legendary Papa, giving a cartoonish performance where almost all of his lines are written and spoken like aphorisms.

This film, an HBO drama, was directed by Philip Kaufman and stars Nicole Kidman as Gellhorn. It has the feel of a sprawling adventure, as the two covered the Spanish Civil War and World War II. But unlike other films of this type, Hemingway & Gellhorn seems like kids playing dress up. Maybe it's the absurd beret that Owen wears.

The two meet in Key West in the '30s. He's already a famous writer, living with his second wife, the skittish Pauline (Molly Parker). We don't get any info on Gellhorn, even though the film is told from her point of view, as a flashback. I take it she was from high society. She's invited to a meeting at his house where John Dos Passos (David Strathairn) urges action on the atrocities in Spain. She decides to go, getting accreditation from Colliers even though she's never covered a war before.

The two fall in love in Spain. Hemingway sees her as the female version of himself--rough and tumble, brave, and also with "legs that start at her shoulders." In a scene that is too comic to be real, they have their first fuck while their hotel is being shelled, plaster dust falling on their naked bodies.

The relationship can't last, though, because Hemingway's masculinity, his most important thing to worry about, is threatened by her success. He even gets her job at Colliers to cover the Normandy invasion. She goes anyway, posing as a nurse, and is the first reporter on the beach. He meets Mary Welsh (Parker Posey) and Gellhorn wants a divorce.

Though Owen is miscast, the film does find the right target on Hemingway, who was a selfish bully. He is so concerned about his own manhood that he has to challenge it in others. I believe there are no fewer than three men he accuses of being gay (including Orson Welles) during the film.

Hemingway & Gellhorn just doesn't work as a whole, though. It's flat and not very exciting, even in the battle scenes. And for good performances as Hemingway, check out Corey Stoller in Midnight in Paris.

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