Hemingway & Gellhorn Blu-ray Review
If you mention the name Ernest Hemingway to most people they’ll tell you two things: He wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” and he killed himself. Both true, but certainly not enough to encompass a man who lived life as if every day was his last. Thanks to the new film HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN we get a much closer glimpse into that life.
As World War II accelerates we meet man’s man Ernest Hemingway (Owen) at his favorite hangout in Key West, a bar known as Sloppy Joes. Tonight he is entertaining the locals when he is taken aback by a beautiful woman looking for a drink. He does his best to impress but soon learns the woman is a fellow author, Margaret Gellhorn (Kidman). Papa (according to some, Hemingway did not like being addressed by his first name and preferred to be called “Papa”) brings the bar home, to the chagrin of his second wife, Pauline (Molly Parker). Of course the décor is all man – with the walls covered in the heads of animals Hemingway has killed. “Kill enough animals,” he tells his guests, “and you won’t kill yourself.” He has agreed to be part of a fundraiser, sponsored by fellow author John Dos Passos (David Strathairn). Dos Passos, best known for his three-volume set U.S.A., is helping to support a documentary to be filmed in Spain highlighting the rebel fighters challenging Dictator Francisco Franco. Hemingway accompanies the filmmakers to Spain and again runs into Gelhorn, who has come over as a “war correspondent.” Despite initial misgivings the two battle their obvious attraction for each other. But sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men (to steal from another classic author of the time) go awry.
Beautifully filmed and skillfully acted, HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN is a mini-history lesson, courtesy of HBO Films. As the film rolls on we are given an inside look into the life of one of this country’s most celebrated authors. Part gentleman, part scoundrel and all man – or at least the definition of a man in the mid 20th Century – Hemingway was someone that loved life to its fullest. Gellhorn, on the other hand, had to be coaxed into embracing Papa’s attitude. As the film is told in flashback, with Gellhorn narrating, we journey to some of history’s biggest moments. Using a technique that utilizes original archival footage, slowly melding into current day color, director Phillip Kaufman not only achieves a documentary look of some historical moments but manages to insert Hemingway and Gellorn into those moments, using a technique first popularized by FORREST GUMP (and Woody Allen’s hilarious ZELIG before that). Spain. Finland. China. You are there.
The cast is top notch, with Englishman Owen and Australian Kidman nailing their American accents. Though Owen wouldn’t have been my first choice (how great would it be to see James Gandolfini tackle Hemingway), he does a credible job, managing to walk the same fine line that Hemingway walked. Supporting work by Strathairn, Tony Shalhoub and an unbilled Robert Duvall, among others, is also first rate. Director Kaufman is at the top of his game here. Shockingly it’s only the third film he’s directed in 20 Years. The man made THE RIGHT STUFF, one of the best films of the 1980s. That Rob Zombie has directed twice as many films in half the time is a crime!
High marks also to everyone behind the camera, especially the art director and production designer who manage to turn the San Francisco location into virtually anywhere else in the world.
Video: Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the film seamlessly blends historical footage with new. The colors are bright and the black and white footage sharp and clear.
Audio: Recorded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 The sound is bright and clear, though you lose a little background banter during the more noisy battle scenes.
Commentary with Director Philip Kaufman and Film Editor Walter Murch: Both men share comments on the film, including pointing out the various San Francisco locations that they used. Especially interesting is the information on how Owen and Kidman were transported back to the 1940s and the decade’s pivotal moments in history.
Behind the Visual Effects (5:28): A step by step primer into how this made for HBO film was able to look like a $100 million blockbuster.
Making Hemingway and Gelhorn (6:27): Standard featurette describing the making of the film, including interviews with Owen, Kidman, Kaufman and Chris Morley, the film’s effects supervisor.