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In Love and War

Year: 1996
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: Richard Attenborough
Producer: Richard Attenborough
Writer: Allan Scott
Cast: Chris O'Donnell, Sandra Bullock

I looked forward to this being the definitive filmed story of the life and times of Ernest Hemingway, much like Attenborough's Gandhi had been 14 years earlier.

And while it was interesting from a historical perspective, it was a little too small and contained to be as weighty and worthy as his previous tour de force. Part of the problem is Chris O'Donnell, too clean cut and bland to really stand out as Hemingway. Where he should have had a real screen presence, he's instead overeager like a puppy dog looking for attention.

Far more cool and assured (with talent she'd show us again and again in films like Infamous) is Sandra Bullock as Agnes, the nurse he pursues while convalescing at a military hospital in Italy.

After being desperate to be sent to the front, Hemingway comes away injured and a hero after carrying a comrade away from the devastation, and it's while he heals in hospital he falls for the pretty but no-nonsense Agnes, trying to make her love him through the brute force of pestering her.

She's also being pursued by a surgeon at the hospital, an older man with wealth and culture that's the complete opposite of the impetuous young boor, and it results in a star-crossed tale of decisions, luck and their consequences like Shakespeare at his best.

The end supertext would have us believe that what became of their affair set Hemingway on the path that led him to be one of the 20th century's greatest writers, and I'm not too sure about that until I can read the book A Farewell to Arms that his adventures are based on.

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