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Film review: 'In Love and War'

18 December 1996 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Ernest Hemingway was a crack cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, one of the two venerable media institutions in K.C.; the other is the Hallmark Greeting Card Co. Unfortunately, this saga of the young writer's World War I romance with an older nurse is told in terms more befitting the greeting card folks than the hard-hitting newspaper.

Starring Chris O'Donnell as Ernest Hemingway and Sandra Bullock as nurse Agnes Von Kurowsky -- whom the writer fell in love with and who inspired his "A Farewell to Arms" -- this New Line release will likely be an early boxoffice casualty, owing to its cliched, picture-postcard portrait of young love.

Based on "Hemingway in Love and War: The Lost Diary of Agnes Von Kurowsky," this story is back-dropped by the last carnages of World War I, when Hemingway and Agnes were Red Cross volunteers in Italy. A triumvirate of credited screenwriters (Allan Scott, Clancy Sigal, Anna Hamilton Phelan) has distilled the letters to a romantic dimension. Essentially, the scenario shows us Ernie (as everyone calls him) and Agnes are cut from the same cloth -- both yearn for adventure and are risk-takers. When Ernie is wounded, Agnes saves his leg from amputation by manipulating her superior into letting her undertake an anti-gangrene procedure.

Other than the fact that this saga is based on a famous personage, the story itself is a standard-issue, nurse-patient love story that eventually swoons into a similarly standard refrain, the older woman-younger man boondoggle.

Further diminishing its individuality and poignancy is the bland, expositional dialogue. While warriors and writers, including Hemingway, have duly noted that "War is hell", in this depiction, war is more an aphrodisiac. With the cannon booming in the distance and only a few perfunctory forays into the trenches, the actual war, as pictured in this beauteous mountainscape setting, seems more a romantic stimulant than a life-threatening nightmare.

Indeed, under Richard Attenborough's warm and diffident hand, "In Love and War" emerges more as a progression of Hallmark-like moments as the lovers picnic on the lake, banter in the fresco, quarrel at the cabin, etc.

As the wet-behind-the-ears Hemingway, O'Donnell seems in keeping with the writer's brash bravado. Oddly enough, from the side profile, O'Donnell looks a lot like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Should anyone wish to produce a series centered around the romances of the great writers of the Midwest, O'Donnell could play them all.

Bullock is similarly hamstrung by the strict confines of her role as a conflicted "older woman," torn between young pup Ernie and an older, stuffed shirt. She acquits herself well, however, smartly evincing the quandary of a woman torn between her head and her heart.

Singly, the technical contributions are sublime, but under Attenborough's mix, they emerge as overripe and trite, diminishing the pain and passion of the love-struck duo.

IN LOVE AND WAR

New Line Cinema

A New Line production

in association with Dimitri Villard Prods.

Producers Dimitri Villard,

Richard Attenborough

Director Richard Attenborough

Screenwriters: Allan Scott, Clancy Sigal,

Anna Hamilton Phelan

Screen story Allan Scott, Dimitri Villard

Based on the book "Hemingway in Love and War" by Henry S. Villard and James Nagel

Executive producer Sara Risher

Supervising producer Chris Kenny

Director of photography Roger Pratt

Production designer Stuart Craig

Co-producer Diana Hawkins

Editor Lesley Walker

Costume designer Penny Rose

Casting Jeremy Zimmerman, Rene Haynes,'

Clare Walker

Sound Simon Kaye, Jonathan Bates,

Gerry Humphreys

Color/stereo

Cast:

Ernest Hemingway Chris O'Donnell

Agnes Von Kurowsky Sandra Bullock

Mac Ingrid Lacey

Henry Villard Mackenzie Astin

Domenico Carracciolo Emilio Bonucci

McBride Ian Kelly

Rosie Margot Steinberg

Miss De Long Tara Hugo

Running time -- 115 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

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2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 1996

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