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In 1992, I was a literary agent at Writers & Artists Agency in Los
Angeles. In a town where new scripts by unproven young writers
can't get their scripts read, I was one of the few agents who was
eager to find new talent. One day, I received a letter from a young
writer asking me to read his script. The title intrigued me and the
story he described demanded that I read the script. The young writer's name was
Steve Conrad and he had just graduated from the University of
Chicago. The script was "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway", and from
the very first page, I knew I had to represent it. The writing was so
simple, so poetic, so powerful, so witty and so real that I called
him before I had even finished reading the script. I was able to
convince Todd Black, an enthusiastic young producer, to read it
and his passion matched mine. He sold it to Warner Bros. and
they made the movie. In a Hollywood rarity, Steve remained the
sole writer of the script.
I am so gratified to read the User Comments and to see how this
little gem of a movie has affected so many people. I am no longer
a literary agent; I now teach English and History to 6th graders. I
shall always be so proud that I had some part in bringing this
wonderful writer and his script to the screen, and that so many of
you have shared my passion about it.
This movie isn't for everyone. There is little action, no sex, nudity, or
violence, no voluptuous bodies, no chase scenes (the fastest anyone goes
on a tandem bicycle), no glitzy special effects. There are very few
characters at all; nearly all dialogue comes from the five top billings,
most from the two central characters: the old men played by Duvall and
Yet it is one of the most engaging and thoughtful films I've seen in a long time. It deals with aging in a realistic way that isn't morose or gruesome, but instead pulls you into the movie as if you're one of the cast who just doesn't happen to have any lines. You are "there" for the entire two hours and you don't want to leave. You quickly care about these people as if they're your own family members, and you move through the movie with them.
Neither do you want to miss a line. The acting is superb all the way around. Duvall's performance is incredible. I didn't come to IMDb today to write a review; I came to see if Duvall won an academy award nomination for his performance. I'm disappointed that this film appears to have won no awards at all. This is probably more a result of the film's poor box office showing than the quality of the movie (it only grossed $231,700, not enough to even pay the crew, let alone the cast). It's a shame that quality films such as this can't draw enough of an audience to be successful, or to even attract enough attention from Academy members for them to even see it and vote on it.
If you didn't know that Duvall was in this film, it might take you awhile to even realize it's him. I can't say enough about it, and am not a good enough movie reviewer to do his performance justice. I hope you'll just trust me on this one and rent this film. It's worth seeing for Duvall's work alone. The rest will be gravy.
But what tasty gravy it is. If you like movies that draw you in and present characters who are real, whom you care about, who change before your eyes in ways you can relate to and understand, then you'll really like this movie. If you like movies that change you a little, that teach you something about life without being at all obvious about it, that don't try to manipulate you, that are sincere, that elicit a range of your emotions without playing you like a cheap fiddle, then you really should see this.
I'm also disappointed in the movie's rating here on IMDb. I notice that the raw numbers are much higher, but the IMDb special formula has adjusted it significantly downward to factor out "the village idiots." While I'm sure there's a good reason for IMDb's secret adjustment formula and that it is appropriate for many situations, I can't imagine that this is the kind of movie for which village idiots would try to stuff the ballot box. Most people who voted for this movie gave it very high ratings--7 to 10--and I'd recommend that you believe them. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway is a quality movie with broad appeal that will leave you feeling very glad you invested two hours in watching it.
The lack of attention this film received is an embarrassment. This is a
fantastic film. Simple, elegant and true. Beautifully rendered from all
points. In a just world, Duvall and Harris would have shared the Oscar.
other actors that year came anywhere near what these two accomplished.
fact that neither was even nominated is truly shameful.
If you were to ask me what it's about, I guess I'd say that it's about life, death, and rebirth, and all the human stuff that goes with that. Oh yeah, and joy. About how joy can seem like a distant, unreachable memory, when really it can be as close as the next park bench over--if only we have the courage.
If you want to experience a quiet little movie that will move you and reverberate in your memory long after, then seek this one out.
In life, one of the simple pleasures for me is getting a haircut,
closing your eyes and feeling someone's massaging fingers on your
scalp, snipping your wet hair, in the caring hands of an old pro. I
came to this fifteen minutes in -- I hope I didn't miss anything
crucial -- but in a way, the movies we watch having missed a portion
are always more interesting. This is a just a small, easy slice-of-life
drama -- a perfect example of a "good little movie," the kind to watch
on a Sunday afternoon with someone you love. An actor who never stops
taking chances and a master of understatement, Robert Duvall slides
into his role of a humble, honorable, respecting Cuban so perfectly
here and he's complemented by excellent work from Richard Harris, as
the well-meaning but coarse drunken loudmouth ex-sailor in the park he
befriends out of a need to simply not be alone anymore. Because of
their mastery, we grow so attached to these fully-formed characters
that it honestly hurts to leave.
The film is exceptionally well-paced, and written with fresh dialogue and immensely touching observances. There's a scene where Duvall learns his favorite waitress is moving away (Sandra Bullock, with appropriate charm), and the expression on his face and hesitance in his speech rips your heart clean out. Then there's the buried disappoint on his face when he sees her reaction to the farewell gift of vodka suggested by Harris. Where Duvall has his junior league baseball games and poignant dancing in his apartment (alone), Harris gets positively hostile towards a woman (Piper Laurie) in a movie theater (where he works, thanks to a spiffy haircut by Duvall) and Shirley MacLaine, also in his housing complex. The plot is thin but in the meandering vignettes there are superb moments, like Harris accosting Duvall in the street about his fantasy of dancing (whether it comes true, you'll have to watch), or later, Duvall insisting that Harris be a well-dressed gentleman at all times. The sentimental score and old time Cuban music enhance the movie; it's quiet and wonderful -- the years may fly by, but the summer days are nice and slow. 9/10
A wonderful character driven film, brilliantly crafted by a gifted director and some of the best acting ever put on film. Robert Duvall inhabits his retired-barber character to the point of being unable to picture him as anyone else, let alone the hard-ass Vietnam Colonel Kilgore who "loves the smell of napalm in the morning". The first time I watched this movie (and trust me, it's worth watching again and again) I completely forgot the actor and was watching the life of this Cuban transplant unfold. And please, oh please, let Richard Harris find another role within which to shine as he did this one. He may be a prolific actor, but I hate to see his talent wasted in such "blockbusters" as Gladiator and Harry Potter.... His face, his eyes... you feel the distance and sorrow his character feels without his uttering a word. Brilliant. I'm constantly amazed when I mention this film that NOBODY seems to have seen it! One of my top ten favorite films of all time.
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
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.
I saw this movie for possibly the ninth time today(Labor Day). It never fails to move me in the way it portrays two lonely people (who could be the flip sides of every person)who meet and fulfill and antagonize each other at the same time. I think that this is one of the best films I have ever seen in my life. I wish I could tell the writer of this film how much it means to me. The entire picture, from its writing, to its filming and acting is top notch. I wouldn't change a thing about it. I love every thing about it. I have read many reviews of this film and some of them have some things right and others are completely wrong. This is a film that says so much about lonliness, neediness, and friendship. I wish everbody could see it.
This is a great movie, and the critic's plot summary doesn't come close to
helping you decide whether or not to watch it. It's NOT a tear jerker
either. With this cast you're obviously not watching any rookies or male
actors lost in their macho. Every character in this movie is played
superbly, and becomes so real, that you can't help but feel like you are
right in the middle of a slice of life in a little town on the coast of
Robert Duval (Walter) is a retired Cuban gentleman, Richard Harris (Frank) is a lonely, crusty retired sailor. Each lives alone, without any family around. They meet in the park at Franks' unwelcome prompting, and with some real reluctance on Walter's part. Shirley McClaine (Coonie) is the divorced motel landlord where Frank lives, and they go toe to toe over one issue after another, occasionally over a little Irish whiskey, including whether or not she'll let Frank get his hands on her. Sandra Bullock (Elaine) is Walter's favorite waitress at the Sweetwater Cafe, and they exchange fond jabs each time he comes around. Piper Lorie is a self respecting single lady, on whom Frank clumsily works his flawed romanatic magic in their town's only movie house.
At the center of this light drama is the unlikely and rocky friendship developing between Frank and Walter. With the backdrop of a laid back little coastal town, and moving to wonderful cuban music and rhythms, each one of the characters and relationships unfolds a little at a time, and begin to cross over one another. Just as you get to know people in your life a little at a time, these folks become more and more themselves as the story unfolds.
The timing, setting, filming, music, and subtleties of the characters and the script work beautifully so that you fall right into it all.
The ending is tender, wistful, and the characters just seem to go their own way. This is like that book you read, where halfway through you started dreading the last few pages.
Even though Duvall's fake, middle class Cuban accent was not right on
the money all the time, he portrayed his obsessive/compulsive, retired
gentleman character's odd and gentle affectations to the letter and was
totally believable and the best thing in this movie, along with Shirley
Maclaine in her tough/nice landlady role as Cooney. Duvall played his
character Walt as an intensely honorable man raised in the strictest
form of old Spanish "gentilhombre" tradition prevalent in pre-Castro
Cuba. He left Cuba for America to see the Yankees in the 1958 World
Series, and never returned as the Communist revolution occurred at the
same time, preventing his return. As he was a true gentleman, when
there was such a thing, he was not to be personally insulted or touched
in anger by any man or be at all discourteous to women or tolerate such
behavior by other men, and any such coarse behavior in his presence was
sure to cause an altercation, and perhaps even a physical one. To him,
true gentlemen were protectors of the innocence and dignity of women in
his well-defined world of gentility and respect.
Harris' sloppy and crude character Frank, who was achingly lonely but showed good reason for his alone-ness in his selfishness and eccentricity, was sure to aggravate Walt in short order with his cursing and coarse behavior. Harris' role was really not too much of an acting stretch for this famous rounder in real life, but he was still very effective in conveying the angst of loss of a meaningful life and family love.
Their short friendship leading to the inevitable conflict was so touching and sad in its honesty and spot-on emotional accuracy when men of a very different style finally clash and part. The same or similar thing has happened to many of us at one time or another in life, so most viewers will connect with its truth and emotional impact. It was nice to see them reconnect after Frank essentially apologized to Walt in the only way he could, obliquely.
The film had a relaxed and almost "retired" pacing, never boring to me but perfectly in tune with day to day retired living in the Miami area, or anywhere. Three scenes of the men together were particularly memorable for their sensitivity and insight.... the fireworks scene, the haircut/shave scene, and the scene where Frank "apologized" to Walt after their argument and afterward they both danced with little girls in a park. Watch for these scenes as they come up as they are crucial to story development. Just great film-making.
This film was one of the best I have seen in depicting how differing people retire from useful professions and then fade from being productive social contributors into their respective, more or less useless retired ways, with some fighting and struggling the whole way and others accepting their fate with gentleness and realization of the inevitability of life. We are all like these film characters in some ways, or will be, and seeing in the film what awaits us all in an older age was not always a pretty sight, but it was always very engaging and touching. We truly cared for the characters in this film....the primary mark of a successful story.
A wonderful film not to be missed by anyone over 50.
If you are a Duvall nut, as I shall forever be, you must rush out and rent this immediately. I spent last night cuddled up with my husband sobbing quietly at this rich and beautifully told story of a shy Cuban barber and a salty sea captain thrown together in retirement hell. They make, needless to say, a momentary paradise out of their touching and sly friendship. Some of the best ensemble acting you will ever witness. Go...now!
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