The HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn follows the intense relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. Told by a retrospective Gellhorn (an aged Nicole Kidman) to an interviewer, she recounts her six-odd-year relationship with Hemingway (Clive Owen). These two iconic writers traveled the world, falling in love while reporting on fascism and communism and writing important works of fiction.
The story begins with Gellhorn meeting Hemingway in his favorite Key West bar Sloppy Joe's. They bond over an Italian song and he invites her to his house for a launch party for a film he's involved with. At the house she meets his wife Pauline (Molly Parker) along with the film crew that includes acclaimed author John Dos Passos (David Strathairn) and activist Paco Zarra (a character based on real-life activist Jose Robles, played by Rodrigo Santoro). Intrigued by their passion for the Spanish Civil War, Gellhorn makes her way to Spain (but not in conjunction with the film crew).
She ends up staying at the same hotel as Hemingway and quickly joins up with his gang. She at first dismisses his advances on her, but when they are holed up together during a bomb raid the sparks begin to fly. They take up as lovers throughout their work on the film. Pauline finds out about the affair and tells Hemingway she'll never divorce him due to their Catholic religion.
The duo strikes off on their own, but while Hemingway holes up writing novels (like For Whom the Bells Tolls, which he dedicated to Gellhorn), Gellhorn takes up her travels, making a name for herself. They maintain an amorous correspondence, leading to Hemingway finally getting Pauline to divorce him, opening him up for marriage to Gellhorn (something she's not entirely thrilled about).
This overly-long film (clocking in at 2 and ½ hours) dwells too long on some moments while speeding through some of the better parts. It spends nearly an hour in Spain, developing Hemingway & Gellhorn's relationship intercut with excessive Civil War coverage. Later in the film, when it focuses purely on their passionate relationship (and less on world travels) the film gets far more interesting—thus adding more impact to their eventual demise.
While the film's length feels tedious, it's the editing of the film that becomes most distracting. Logically the film jumps to grainy black & white footage when a camera is rolling, but illogically the coloring effect remains when cutting to the characters behind the camera or watching the filming. The frequent coloring effects pop up throughout the film, oftentimes slowly fading into color (they even later use Sepia for their trip to China). The effects are appreciated but completely overused, pulling you out of the film.
Fortunately, the combined talent of Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen make up for most of the film's flaws. Their chemistry together and individual skills have you rooting for them the entire film. Being an HBO film, there are of course many cameos by other big name actors. Besides the aforementioned talent, Mark Pelligrino plays writer Max Easton, Robert Duvall plays Russian General Petrov, Tony Shaloub plays Russian reporter Mikhail Koltsov, and Parker Posey appears at the end as Hemingway's fourth and final wife Mary Welsh Hemingway.
It's no surprise that the film garnered two Golden Globe nominations and 15 Emmy nominations (including two wins). HBO always produces solid material, and with the talent behind this film—it was directed by Philip Kaufman and edited by Walter Murch—its success as a film was inevitable. If you dislike Hemingway (as a writer) or historical pieces (like I do) then you can still enjoy the film's performances centered on these iconic American writers.
The Blu-ray disc contains an in-depth making of featurette and a visual effects featurette focused on “how they enriched the film’s historical accuracy.”
The DVD included in this set contains commentary with director Kaufman and editor Murch.
"Hemingway & Gellhorn" is on sale April 2, 2013 and is rated tv-ma. Drama. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Written by Jerry Stahl, Barbara Turner. Starring Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman.