In Love and War | Chicago Reader

In Love and War

Henry Villard, who says he was in a hospital with Ernest Hemingway in Milan in 1918, collaborated with James Nagel on the 1989 book Hemingway in Love and War, which speculates about a relationship between Hemingway and a nurse. That relationship is presented unambiguously as a love affair in this movie, with Agnes Von Kurowsky (Sandra Bullock) falling for Hemingway (Chris O'Donnell), who puts himself in the line of fire so he'll have something dramatic to write about. An Italian doctor with big plans also woos the nurse and turns her head. What-might-have-been stories play heavily on our wistfulness about paths not taken in our own lives, and this one has the added appeal of unabashed corniness and the mythology surrounding a real person. By the end of the movie O'Donnell's character has taken on a crusty, protective shell—an unconvincing metamorphosis for the idealistic teenager that puts a strain on the movie's grandiose agenda: to validate itself as a kind of history. Printed text hammers us with historical context, and at one point an image of the real Hemingway is superimposed over O'Donnell's face. By being too literal about the relationship between the character and the person, the movie finds itself explaining Ernest Hemingway with one anecdotal experience. But because most of this crude contextualizing comes at the beginning and end of the movie it can be ignored. Produced by its director, Richard Attenborough, and Villard's son Dimitri.

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