Hemingway deliberately cultivated his notoriously macho image. Yet, he somehow he found four women willing
to marry him at various points of his life.
That was a lot of optimism, on everyone’s part. Though she had the shortest tenure as a “Mrs.
Hemingway,” war correspondent Martha Gellhorn was the most notable. Matching and at times surpassing his feats of
war zone journalistic daring, Gellhorn fired his passion and inspired his professional
respect and jealousy. Their tempestuous
relationship is dramatized in Philip Kaufman’s HBO Film Hemingway & Gellhorn (trailer here) now currently
airing on the network.
ambitious young magazine writer Martha Gellhorn first meets the funky, grungy Hemingway
in a Key West bar, they can barely resist tearing the clothes off each
other. The fact that he is married
hardly matters to either of them.
However, their animal attraction will have to briefly wait until they
reunite covering the Spanish Civil War, at the behest of ardent Spanish
Republican supporter John Dos Passos.
with Dutch Communist documentarian-propagandist Joris Ivens, Hemingway and Dos
Passos film The Spanish Earth (with
Gellhorn tagging along), for the
purpose of rallying American audiences to the Republican cause. Frankly, it is considerable more compelling
to watch their run-and-gun shooting process in H&G than the historical documentary itself. That adrenaline also fuels the war reporters’
like Hemingway and Gellhorn’s relationship, the film really clicks during their
time together in Spain. Viewers are
served a liberal helping of Nationalist atrocities, but the portrayal of the
Soviet forces is also refreshingly unvarnished, particularly with respects to fatal
purging of heroic Loyalist soldier Paco Zarra, a stand-in for Dos Passos’ doomed
friend José Robles. While the literary
power couple is shown fawning over Chou En-lai and sneering at the gauche
Chiangs in China, Gellhorn also reports from Finland, unequivocally siding with
the Finns against the Soviet invaders.
the film loses vitality with the aging Hemingway, sliding into the long
denouement of his dubious u-boat chasing Cuban years and sad final days in
Idaho. By the time America enters WWII,
screenwriters Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner clearly suggest Gellhorn was more
of a man than Hemingway. Of course, this
is a common problem with bio-pics. To be
accurate, they can almost never end with the good stuff.
of his character arc, Clive Owen totally goes for broke as Hemingway. One of the few actors working today who can
come across as both manly and literate, he bellows and carouses with
relish. It is a larger than life
performance, bordering on camp, yet he is still able to convey Hemingway’s
inner demons and nagging self-doubts. He
also manages to dial it down periodically for some saucy Tracy-and-Hepburn
bantering with Nicole Kidman’s Gellhorn.
Likewise, Kidman is on a very short list of actresses who can play
smart, sophisticated, and alluring, simultaneously. In fact, she could be channeling Hepburn and the
Rosalind Russell of His Girl Friday
as the fast-talking, khaki-wearing journalist crusading against injustice,
which is frankly pretty cool.
addition to the strong chemistry between the leads, H&G boasts a strong supporting ensemble. David Strathairn is particularly engaging as
the disillusioned idealist, Dos Passos, serving as a subtle corrective to Hemingway’s
ethical malleability. Metallica’s Lars
Ulrich adds notable color as Ivens, while Tony Shaloub conveys a sense of both
the menace and tragedy of the Stalinist true believer Mikhal Koltsov, who is
considered to be the source for the Karkov character in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Again, the most inspired work comes during or prior to the Spanish Civil
approximating the look of black-and-white news reels and Ivens’ documentary footage,
H&G is highly cinematic (getting
a vital assist from cinematographer Rogier Stoffers). Kaufman is a big canvas filmmaker, with
sufficient artistic stature to merit a recent MoMA film retrospective—a high
honor indeed. While steamier and
gossipier than The Right Stuff, it is
downright staid compared to his Henry
& June and The Unbearable
Lightness of Being.
An appropriately messy film sprawling all over
the place, H&G is rather rowdily
entertaining, capturing good deal more historical insight than one would
expect. Definitely recommended for those
who appreciate the Hemingway oeuvre and persona (as well admirers of Gellhorn
or Dos Passos), Hemingway & Gellhorn airs again on HBO June 2nd, 7th, 10th, 11th,
15th, and 19th and on HBO2 on June 4th, 6th,
12th, 17th, 21st, 25th, and 30th.
Labels: Clive Owen, David Strathairn, Ernest Hemingway, HBO, John Dos Passos, Martha Gellhorn, Nicole Kidman, Philip Kaufman, Spanish Civil War