Philip Kaufman's direction and Nicole Kidman's superb acting are standouts in making this a great film. I very much like the way Kaufman created the illusion of history taking place before our eyes, the embedding of Kidman and Owen into archival footage with the filming of Kidman in both vintage-sepia toned film and color film. It's a bit hard to describe here, but anyone interested in how it was done and the effect it created should see the HBO clip on YouTube called "Hemingway & Gellhorn: Visual Effects Piece." I've seen a number of films set in the time period, the latest that comes to mind is Pan's Labyrinth, but none have made me feel I was inside the frame struggling to understand the action and effects of war the way this film did. I'm very grateful that the storyline so closely follows the historic reality of their lives. That is so rarely done. Being true to history generally means the audience has to accept that there is no 3-act play here. We can't fit these people's lives into the neat narrative that pleases most critics. To do so would force this film to be less than it turned out to be. There's a 1940's film (Arise, My Love) with Claudette Colbert playing a character said to have been inspired by Martha Gellhorn. It has a special romantic charm, and it follows the usual arc of romantic movies. It is fine in its own right to remake films like that, to alter the narrative to follow an arc, but this is not the aim of Hemingway & Gellhorn. Like life, it's a lot messier.
I found Clive Owen excellent in the film. Some reviewers said he overacted or tried too hard, but that's actually who Hemingway was--a person who overdid, overplayed his own role in life. Really, what man in his late 30's wants to be known as "Papa" to his male friends? (The nickname was one he encouraged from the age of 26 or 27 according to first wife Hadley.) Hemingway created an image for himself that helped him define himself, but also stifled his ability to grow later in life. It probably didn't help that he was bipolar according to a diagnosis made in later years. Clive Owen captures the best and worst of Hemingway, no mean feat. He really deserves more credit that he got from critics. He was superb in the role.
Right now, A Farewell to Arms (the film made from Hemingway's second novel) is available to view in Prime. The movie is referred to in the film both in the dialog and through its movie poster on Hemingway's wall. Also on Prime right now is the documentary referred to, The Spanish Earth. I can't say I've seen either, but it seems this is my chance so I thought I'd pass it along.
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