A drama centered on the romance between Ernest Hemingway and WWII correspondent Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls and the only woman who ever asked for a divorce from the writer.
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It was a romance born out of war...and later torn apart by it. This powerful drama recounts one of the great love stories of the 20th century: the relationship between literary giant Ernest Hemingway and trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Written by
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Philip Kaufman who directed this long and boring mess of a film knows better (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Twisted, etc) and the idea of reflecting on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn which took place during so many important historical events (Spanish Civil War in Franco's Spain, WW II complete with the Allied Invasion of Europe at Normandy Beach, the Russian Invasion of Finland, the turmoil in China as Communism rose in reaction to the Japanese invasion, the strange position of Cuba in all of this). But the screenplay is so mediocre to very bad (screenwriters Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner) and the level of acting is so superficial that it simply falls flat.
Martha Gellhorn, the Collier's reporter who becomes a war correspondent and marries Ernest Hemingway as she travels up the ladder of fame, is by far the main character here. A very well made-up aged Martha (Nicole Kidman) opens the story as she is being interviewed for a TV program. We immediately are in flashbacks to how this stern woman met Hemingway in a Key West bar, matched him quip for poorly written quip and finally follows him in a very phony setup: Hemingway (Clive Owens in a shoddy performance) is traveling with John Dos Passos (David Strathairn), Spanish patriot Paco Zarra (Rodrigo Santoro) and crew to shoot a film by Joris Ivens (Lars Ulrich) to show the public the atrocities of Franco in the Spanish Revolution - a tiresomely overused gimmick. Everyone drinks a lot and Hemingway finally seduces Gellhorn to his bed in Madrid (he is currently married to the very Catholic Pauline (Molly Parker) who upon discovery his adultery refuses to divorce him). As the situation in Spain falls down, Hemingway and Gellhorn take their need to write - Hemingway to complete FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and Martha flies off to various war fronts to be a war correspondent. Together they fight their way through experiences in China and other hot spots until ultimately Hemingway remains drunk in Cuba 'fighting off German U boats' and Gellhorn gives up on him.
Nicole Kidman gives the only remarkable performance; Clive Owens could have phoned in his role. Others in the huge cast of miniscule parts are Robert Duval , embarrassingly bad as a Russian General, Joan Chen as Madame Chiang, Tony Shalhoub as the Russian spy Koltsov, an excellent Santiago Cabrera as the famous war photographer Robert Capa, Peter Coyote (don't blink), Diane Baker, Parker Posey, and Connie Nielsen. The film runs 2 ½ hours on HBO and could easily have been edited down to an hour and a half. The only real saving grace (meaning the only reason to watch it0 is the very artistic way the film is a blend between contemporary cinematography and real film footage from the events in the story. That part is Magical. Otherwise, this is a snooze fest.
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