IN LOVE AND WAR (1996) 

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Chris O'Donnell
Sandra Bullock
MacKenzie Astin
Margot Steinberg
Ingrid Lacey
Tara Hugo
Diane Witter

Richard Attenborough



Original Novel

Time: 115 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: History/Romance/Drama/War

I really, really, really wanted to like this film. I'm normally a sucker for sappy, romantic, period dramas, but this film was unbearable. You'd think that a film based on the actual experiences of the legendary Ernest Hemingway would be filled with danger and excitement. What we get is a tepid, unfinished love story unworthy of the time spent to tell it. The story itself has everything a movie needs: exotic location, inherent danger, forbidden romance. It just never comes together into a cohesive picture. The fact that O'Donnell and Bullock have absolutely no chemistry between them doesn't help.

This relationship changed Hemingway's life forever, supposedly becoming the basis for A FAREWELL TO ARMS, yet it lacks the passion and magic of a great love affair. O'Donnell and Bullock are horribly miscast here, he as a brave, rambunctious ambulance driver and she as the selfless woman who nurses him back to health. Since she saves his life and his leg, it's understandable he would be grateful. However, she does nothing to encourage him or inspire such undaunted devotion. Despite all indications to the contrary, they fall in love. With a backdrop as gorgeous and compelling as war torn Italy, this should have been a home run. What we get is a bunt. Flat, unappealing characters who go through the motions of romance, without ever making you believe their joy.

Most of the blame falls on an undeveloped script that takes too long to get going, delivers mediocre characters, bad dialogue and an ending that destroys whatever goodwill you have left. The story had potential. Developed from actual letters exchanged between the pair, one expects to see a relationship unfold and bloom. To understand what, besides mere geography, drew these people together. The letters undoubtedly leave much of the story in the ether, unknown to anyone but the lovers. Which is where the screenwriter usually comes in. We get no insight into their motivations or emotions. Granted, what happened is based in historical fact, but if there's not enough information to make a fulfilling story, it's the job of the filmmakers to fill in the gaps. Hemingway's been long dead, so he can't exactly sue for defamation of character. Frankly, I'm sure this effort has him spinning in his grave. How a film about him could be so boring is beyond me.

To top it all off, the production looks like it was shot completely on a soundstage. A lush location like Italy usually adds to the romance. Here, it's about as evocative as a postcard. Coming from the man who directed GANDHI, this film is more than disappointing. Attenborough, when he cares about the story and characters, is a compelling and competent storyteller. SHADOWLANDS, the film he directed before this, breaks your heart with its deeply personal story of love and loss. IN LOVE AND WAR, should have been a no-brainer for him. Instead, we get a slapped together effort with an epic feel, but no heart. This is a classic example of a film that just doesn't work on any level. It's clear they tried, they just got lost along the way.

"You know what I've been told? Italian men respect their wives. They spoil their mistresses. But the only women they love are their mothers."

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