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Frank, a retired Irish seaman, and Walter, a retired Cuban barber, are two lonely old men trapped in the emptiness of their own lives. When they meet in a park Frank is able to start a conversation after several attempts. They begin to spend time together and become friends. But because of their different characters they often quarrel with each other and finally seperate after Frank misbehaves to Walter's friend Elaine. Written by
Matthias Scheler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Why is it that all the best movies never seem to make it big? Not enough explosions, car chases, exploding heads, sex scenes? Sometimes it seems that way. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway got barely a moment in the theaters despite the presence of two heavy hitters like Robert Duvall and Richard Harris. It's a real sleeper.
Harris plays Frank, a down-at-the-heels wreck of a dissolute old sea captain and Duvall plays Walter, a retired Cuban barber, very fastidious and introverted and a bachelor. These two polar opposites, alone in their old age, develop a devoted but rocky friendship wherein they learn a lot from each other. The movie has a whole lot to say about loneliness, friendship, old age, living life, and caring and it says it in a strong, yet understated and beautiful way.
It is worth comparing with the glitzy and ineffective "Grumpy Old Men", which tried to be both serious and a comedy and failed at both. This is the `serious' half of that movie done right, even brilliantly.
The odd title comes from Frank's story - repeated ad nauseum to anyone whose ear he can grab - about how he once wrestled Ernest Hemingway in 1936. The screenplay is touching in a restrained way that is all the more effective for its restraint. No tear-jerker scenes to wring the emotion from the audience, and yet it is more emotionally powerful than a lot of run-of-the-mill hankie-twisters. The plot moves to a predictably sad ending, but then moves beyond that to a quiet reaffirmation of life.
The acting is top-notch, as one would expect, although Duvall's Spanish accent is better than Harris' American one. In particular I cannot speak too highly of Duvall in this role. This is the direct opposite of the "Great Santini"-type roles that he does so well, and he is astonishingly effective in playing this fastidious, gentle, shy, repressed, soft-spoken old man. It is a joy to watch him make this character real.
I once heard some critic remark that one mark of a good movie is if you find yourself caring about the characters. On that scale this movie is 12 out of a possible 10.
Shirley MacLaine and Piper Laurie put in well-turned performances, as well as Sandra Bullock in an early appearance.
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