By Forrest Hartman
Hemingway & Gellhorn
3½ stars (out of four)
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
The legends surrounding writer Ernest Hemingway have become almost as well known as his literary treasures. Perhaps because he is seen as a model of masculinity, the man himself is as appealing as any character he invented for the page.
The latest film to shed light on his life is the HBO drama “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” a picture about his relationship with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Although Hemingway is the best-known half of the power couple, Gellhorn is noteworthy in her own right, having established a career as one of the finest war correspondents of the 20th century. The film begins and ends with an aging Gellhorn (portrayed beautifully by Nicole Kidman) recalling her past.
As depicted on screen, the two writers had an instant attraction destined to end Hemingway’s marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer. The movie follows their relationship to its end, with much of the action set during the Spanish Civil War, a conflict both writers had an interest in publicizing.
Clive Owen portrays Hemingway with bravado, depicting the man as both remarkably charismatic and unjustifiably explosive. This reading is in keeping with all we know of the writer, and it meshes well with Kidman’s representation of Gellhorn. In any romance, which is what “Hemingway & Gellhorn” truly is, chemistry between the leads is crucial, and Owen and Kidman have plenty. In fact, they make it easy to imagine these two world-weary writers softening their shells just enough to let one another in. Both actors received Golden Globe nominations for their work.
Of course, this is one romance that can’t end with “happily ever after.” Hemingway and Gellhorn would divorce, take other spouses and leave each other behind. Although the film acknowledges this, director Philip Kaufman (“Quills,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) doesn’t dwell on things that came before or after their relationship. Rather, he attempts to capture the passion of their time together and reflect on the impact it had on their lives as a whole. He also blends grainy, newsreel-style footage with slick modern cinematography, giving events a sense of immediacy, while reminding us that they occurred in past.
Whether “Hemingway & Gellhorn” is an accurate historical representation of these two writers’ lives is a question best answered by literary scholars. But one needn’t have that answer to enjoy the movie. Kaufman, Owen and Kidman do a fine job capturing the spirit of these fascinating figures, and that makes it an artistic success.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary with Kaufman and editor Walter Murch.