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Unlike similar biopics this film succeeds in drawing its audience into the life and affairs—not merely sexual—of these men's triumphs, disappointments, fears, and foibles, in a way that is difficult to disengage from. Where others take a didactic, professorial stance "Tru Gen"—the subtitle taken from Hemingway's distinction of "truth from rumor", "the real from the phony"—gives us opportunity to drink from the top-shelf of two top-shelf lives.
It feels superfluous to speak of the films production values. (The narration of Sam Waterston, cinematography, sound, and the rest, are superb.) They match the storytelling as they do the two lives presented. The pacing is goldilocks-perfect, facilitating comprehension of the films many details while preserving the warmth and resonance of each episode and scene.
The sweep of the film in reportage of conduct/behavior and relation of feelings is at times staggering. We do hear from the professors and critics but they are subordinate to the close friends, professional associates, and yes, lovers.
Imagine any of the literary, painting, and film characters of "Midnight in Paris" (Woody Allen, 2010), drawn at length in intimate portraiture, and you have a glimpse of what "The Tru Gen" offers. We are treated to a full-length expose: a feast for the uninformed and the connoisseur. On third viewing the film is as fresh as the first. One cannot guzzle. You must sip and savor.
It also made me see the damage that our society's emphasis on rock-em, sock-em masculinity does. Both Hemingway and Cooper obviously spent their professional lives hiding their sensitive interior selves. And, as the documentary reveals, this ended up harming their careers as they aged. Both were locked into images they'd created early on, and could not escape from.
Can't recommend this any higher.
The narrative is skillfully driven by interviews interspersed with with never before seen home films and archival photographs. Perhaps most interesting is the documentary's analysis of the parallel success of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Cooper's High Noon in 1951. Who knew Hemingway's suicide followed Cooper's death from cancer a mere seven week apart.
Makes the viewer wonder how the loss of his best friend added to Hemingway's terrible depression.