It seems mean-spirited to film an actor under false pretenses, but in the case of Hemingway & Gellhorn, it’s awfully counter-productive too. Hemingway & Gellhorn was obviously conceived as a spoof of both Hemingway’s grizzly-man image and of hammer-handed biopics in general, and yet it appears that director Philip Kaufman told co-lead Clive Owen to act simply as if he were in a mediocre made-for-cable movie.
Nicole Kidman, who stars as Gellhorn, may have been in on the joke, but it’s often hard to tell with her. She does that cigarette-smoking thing lame actors often do, where she says a line…pauses for effect…inhales slowly from the cigarette….exhales slowly…and grandly…then finishes her line. (Does anyone really talk like that when they smoke, or just actors who don’t really know how people talk when they smoke?) Then when Gellhorn first meets Hemingway, he’s spitting booze all over this big fish he just caught, and you can practically hear Gellhorn’s delicate parts start glistening. Naturally, she flaunts her ass at him- an ass so nice, I’m almost convinced it’s CGI. This is all in the first few minutes. Sounds comedic, no?
Of course, Papa Hemingway gets most of the juicy lines, but alas, the usually bad-ass Clive Owen doesn’t sink his teeth into them deeply enough. (Maybe that’s because when he delivers most of his lines, his teeth are practically clenched, and he sounds like a mildly constipated British guy doing a half-assed John Wayne.) “You know how to write, don’t you?” he asks Gellhorn, standing at his typewriter. “You just sit at your typewriter and bleed.” This is funny, funny stuff! (Maybe even a humorous reference to that famous line about whistling in To Have And Have Not.) Problem is, Clive Owen doesn’t speak as if he’s supposed to think it’s funny stuff.
I became fully convinced Hemingway & Gellhorn was a comedy about an hour in, when Spanish Civil War bombs are exploding outside Hemingway & Gellhorn’s hotel, and amid all the fear and adrenaline, our two lovers finally decide to fuck for the first time. And even as the walls shake, even as rubble falls on top of their naked, sinful bodies, they still have time for extremely dialoguey dialogue. “Is this what you want?” Gellhorn asks, mid-coitus. “It’s what I NEED,” purrs Ernie, though Owen should probably be growling that little gem.
Perhaps the funniest thing about Hemingway & Gellhorn is its habit of inserting the actors into old, scratchy newsreel footage for certain historic scenes, even while the rest of the movie is shot in standard Hollywood film-style. It’s not the concept that’s hilarious as much as how visible the stitches are. By comparison, the photoshops of Forrest Gump look like they were filmed using genuine time travel. Now are we to believe that an HBO production wasn’t able to match the special effects of a freaking 18 year-old movie? Surely not, no! So once again, it seems obvious that we are meant to laugh at Hemingway & Gellhorn.
Anyway, maybe Philip Kaufman thought that keeping Clive Owen in the dark about the film’s comedic nature would produce the most sincere performance possible. After all, the most sincere performances make for the biggest laughs. But all I kept thinking was how brilliant Hemingway & Gellhorn could have been if Hemingway was played by Nick “Ron Swanson” Offerman.
Read Full Post »