There’s plenty of scenery to be gnawed on, and everybody in the movie, especially Owen, appears to be having some fun gnawing on it. But “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” directed by Philip Kaufman (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) from a script by Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner, is overly enamored with its ridiculous sense of sweep. It sweeps and sweeps and sweeps. It sweeps for at least a half-hour too long, needlessly sweeping itself all the way to Hemingway’s suicide, 15 years after Gellhorn dumped him. (She also killed herself, in 1998, facing blindness and deteriorating health.)
The film’s dialogue — which awkwardly attempts to mirror the banter of Hollywood classics — is mainly in service only to the plot, in which Hemingway and Gellhorn meet in Florida in 1936 and traipse off to the Spanish Civil War. There, she files magazine dispatches for Collier’s while he bigfoots around to help Ivens and Dos Passos film a documentary.
Soon enough, Ernest and Martha hop into bed. More bombs go off around them, plaster actually falls off the walls, and she feels . . . nothing. Well, perhaps something. (Not Papa’s fault. Gellhorn once famously called herself “the worst bed partner in five continents.”)
Against her better judgment, Gellhorn eventually becomes the third Mrs. Hemingway, spending long stretches of time with him at their secluded Cuban casita. She occasionally goes off to report on more wars while he finishes “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” World War II beckons them both; he vaingloriously swipes her Collier’s assignment and she has to get to D-Day by talking her way onto a hospital boat. He seems unimpressed with the war, while she sloshes ashore at Normandy and eventually gets a life-altering look at the horrors of the Holocaust. Not long after the Allied victory, Hemingway starts cheating on Gellhorn with the eventual fourth Mrs. Hemingway (played by Parker Posey). When he and his new lover are injured in a car crash, Gellhorn shows up in his London hospital room, where he taunts her:
“If you didn’t come by to gloat, why did you come?”
“I guess I just came by for a divorce,” she says.
And so it went. She spent the rest of her long career trying not to be a mere footnote to his biography.