"I do not see myself as a footnote to someone else's life." —Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn in the movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012)Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012), starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, which tells the tale of the steamy exciting relationship between
|This image of the actual Hemingway and Gellhorn|
nicely captures what must have been their
powerful, larger-than-life characters.
The other problem was that we only really get to see Gellhorn in counterpoint to Hemingway. (Okay, so there was no false-advertising here.) And Clive Owen interprets Hemingway, at this point in his life already a celebrity, as bombastic, childish, and overly obsessed with his manhood. If they were a comic duo, Gellhorn would be the straight man to Hemingway's more dynamic, larger-than-life persona. But this is a love story... or wait, is it a biographical story? And who's the protagonist again? Throughout the movie you see the irresistible story of Hemingway interpolate itself into the scenes of what is framed and billed as a story about both of them... We see EH big sea fishing (Old Man and the Sea, anyone?), we see the Spanish Civil War years (more on this below), and they can't resist showing us EH's suicide (and foreshadowing the hell out of it throughout the film) even though he had long left Gellhorn by then. At some points it seems like Owen and the scriptwriters forget what the movie is about, and feel obliged to deliver us an argument specifically about Hemingway... but they never do. I was wondering if the movie would be a critique of Hemingway: he's not the great man, but really an arrogant, pompous chauvinist. But they never really go there either. Fans of Hemingway will be annoyed by how childish EH is here, while critics will be annoyed that the movie never dots the "i" in the feminist critique of him.
But let us not forget that this is a historical drama, and not just a love story. Certainly the director (Philip Kaufman) of the film wouldn't let us forget it. H&G is a movie where the grand events of history through which the characters pass are meant to move you. This endeavor also feels uneven at times and falls flat at others. The movie can't resist historical cameos (did he just say "Orson Welles"?), literally bomb-bastic war scenes, and the obligatory imagery of a Dachau holocaust camp at the end of WWII (which comes across as an out-of-kilter somber moment thrown in to oblige and to disturb). New film techniques are used to nest the film's stars in actual historical footage. Which frankly comes across a bit sappy. The cinematographer shifts between color (to indicate a lived present) and B&W or sepia tone filters to create a retro film affect. But the transitions are distracting and happen too frequently to be subtle, and there is something about seeing Nicole Kidman in sepia which just seems comical rather than historical.
|Get what you pay for: Robert Duvall delivers one of the worst cameos ever,|
as a Russian general which was a walking cliché. Though you can't blame him,
since apparently he did the part as a favor to the director.
|Here you can see Nicole Kidman (in sepia) asking herself, "How did I end|
up here on the Spanish front?" Good question, Nicole. Good question.
|Scenes like this, that is county-side trench scenes, |
always pepper the Spanish Civil War genre. Irresistible.
And much could be said about the signature HBO gratuitous sex scenes. And much of it is being said elsewhere. Let's see, what do I want to say? I certainly wouldn't complain about them. (There are three scenes in total.) Do they add much beyond giving us what we secretly want (to see Kidman naked)? Probably not. Unless they are meant to emphasize how kinky the two characters are, since the scene mentioned above and another sex-scene in the changing room of a Cuban cabaret club both have an oddly voyeuristic and kinky feel to them. The sex in these scenes doesn't exactly consumate a growing love between the two characters. (Maybe that is what the third sex scene accomplishes.) Again, I'm not complaining. But I won't pretend (as many others seem to be doing) that it adds much of anything to the story about Hemingway and Gellhorn. (And so much for showing this movie to the kids to encourage them to take an interest in American literature and world history... though perhaps Hemingway is not much of a PG figure anyway.)
|Maybe the movie is worth watching just for this totally unnecessary sex scene,|
in a Cuban cabaret changing room.
|This would be the gratuitous sex scene where EH and MG are actually|
consummating feelings of love and closeness to each other, rather than
merely demonstrating to audiences the passion of their personalities.
Whether to watch the movie or not, that's what a review really boils down to. And on this question I'm conflicted. It would be hard for me to recommend this movie on its filmic or entertainment merits alone. I think it was a bit boring, kind of a flop. Still, part of me wonders whether the movie has at least been useful for another injection of Hemingwaymania. While the world hardly needs more Hemingway fanatics, they do less harm than good. (As a Spanish Civil War movie, I'd say it's more farce than tour de force... I would redirect you to the hundreds of Spanish movies that cover that topic with much greater care and consideration. In this movie, the war boils down to the clichéd old-school American account, "You can't trust them Russians," which is a pretty impoverished understanding of all that went on in the war.)
|Gellhorn must have been a kick-ass person, what with all|
the wars she covered on the front-lines.
And this was the great failure of the movie, it couldn't get it's story straight, and just pick a genre. Was this a "behind every great man, there's a great woman" picture? (As one reviewer put it: "a lot of hooey about Hemingway".) Or was it actually a stealth biopic of Gellhorn, the trailblazing female professional war correspondent, who among her many amazing accomplishments was actually there at Normandy to cover the D-Day invasion? (Is this why the movie aired on Memorial Day?) Or was it a kind of Alexandre Dumas style historical fiction, where the characters' secret love lives crisscross the great moments of history? (We learn, for example, or that is the film implies that Hemingway's _real_ motive for going to cover the Spanish Civil War was _actually_ to pursue Gellhorn.)
In the end it was none, or it was all of them, but none done very coherently or convincingly. So maybe you should pass on this movie and wait for the remake, which I propose be titled: "Not Hemingway's Wife." Now that's a movie about Gellhorn that I'd like to watch.