Hemingway & Gellhorn and Faces that Move: Thoughts


So, I watched the HBO biopic Hemingway & Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman.  I have read and enjoyed the bio of Martha Gellhorn, a respected and well-known war correspondent in her day as well as a travel journalist and novelist,  and of course, the exploits of Papa Hemingway are legendary.  I’ve seen the documentary on the Spanish Civil War,  Spanish Earth, the making of which is depicted here, and I found that aspect fascinating.

Nicole Kidman as war correspondent Martha Gellhorn and Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway in Hemingway and Gellhorn.

A great deal of actual footage from that war and WW II is integrated into the film, which uses special effects to put the actors into the vintage footage. It’s a volatile and fascinating period of history, without a doubt, and you have two larger-than-life personalities, both talented, narcissistic and egotistical.  It seems inevitable their passionate affair and marriage will burn out, since they fight as much as they make love. It does.

My feelings are definitely mixed about the end results, however.

Some of the lines are groaners. The script is littered with platitudes. Some of the characters are pretty one-dimensional.  I confess I wonder if Hemingway was as much of an insufferable a**hole in real life as he is often depicted to be here.  Clive Owen is a gorgeous, sexy man but I kept wanting to “man up” and punch Papa’s macho lights out, frankly.

And then we come to Nicole Kidman. I had a lot of problems with Nicole in her role as Gellhorn. Actually, I’ve been having problems for years with a certain aspect of Nicole.

Talented, certainly. Beautiful, without a doubt. But I really, really wish she would stop messing with her face.  I saw her recently in a film from early in her career and she almost looked like a different person from the woman I saw in H&G.

While we all change somewhat as we grow older, we don’t change that much, not naturally, anyway.  Your nostrils don’t grow smaller, your Cupid’s bow doesn’t periodically disappear from your upper lip, your eyebrows do not elevate–well, you get the idea.

KIdman in 1989. A fresh-faced beauty.

NIcole, before and after.

The more current Botoxed and Restalyne-filled face of Nicole.

She’s lightened up on the Botox, thank goodness, and doesn’t have those tell-tale batwing brows these days.  She was actually able to crinkle her forehead slightly in some scenes of H&G.  Still, at times she looks almost too–doll-like in recent years.  I miss the originality, the quirkiness of her natural beauty.

Nicole is 44.  At 44, no matter how much you stay out of the sun, don’t smoke and take care of your skin (the measures that keep her complexion so perfect, Kidman claims), you should have a few lines and creases in your face.  Character. By that age, you should have some character in your face.

I know actresses often have to do things to maintain their looks in order to keep their careers alive. Unfair, but there you are.

And they often play characters younger than their actual ages. Therein may lie some of the problem. Gellhorn, who was born in 1908, was in her late 20s, some 15 years younger than Kidman, when she met Hemingway.

Gellhorn was a very attractive and glamorous woman, but  she was also expressive. Nicole’s facial expressions don’t really mirror the robust personality of the writer (Gellhorn has been described as a woman capable of awe-inspiring rage).  Nicole’s Gellhorn doesn’t look as if she’d get really worked up over much of anything.  I don’t think it’s a terrible performance by any means; but for me, it was missing something essential.

It concerns me that Kidman may keep up this tweaking as she grows older to the point where her face won’t move at all.  She won’t look young, she’ll just look–weird. And ultimately it will limit the roles she can effectively play. And that’s a shame.

It’s not as much of an issue for men, but I do hope Richard does not ever feel the need to succumb to paralyzing his face, nipping and tucking. I don’t honestly think he will; he’s aging beautifully and I think that will continue.  In terms of his acting, he is so dedicated to getting the details right and has never minded making faces that can be downright unattractive at times.  Think of Thornton giving that thrashing or some of Guy’s thunder faces.

An expressive, mobile face is an actor’s friend, surely? Anyone?

44 responses »

  1. “An expressive, mobile face is an actor’s friend, surely? Anyone?” YES! I think that’s why Richard has learned to use every facial muscle effectively, making his performance as a whole so much more effective and powerful. Especially nowadays, when in closeup, you can see the pores on Alec Track’s nose and count his crow’s feet, for example, even a prosthesis must allow the actor’s face some mobility. (I think thet’s why Richard mentioned the “Elephant man” role; he’d be challenged to act without the use of his face — just voice and body language alone.) The paralysed, porcelain-doll look that some actresses feel they must adopt just makes them look like Stepford wives and destroys one of the strongest tools in their kits. I can see the point of plastic surgery to repair damage, or like mine to make a cancer surgery less noticeable, but to attempt to maintain the illusion of youth? Nah. I don’t imagine Richard would be interested at all.

    • And ironically, I do believe Nicole played a Stepford wife, did she not? It is definitely one thing if you suffer an injury or illness or are born with a deformity that alters one’s appearance adversely–but trying to hold on to your youth in such a way? It’s one thing to have subtle work done to refresh one’s looks–I remember Angela Lansbury having some eye work done during her run on Murder She Wrote, and I had no idea of it until she talked about it. I just thought she looked more rested– but when you begin to look like an alien or an entirely different person altogether, it’s another. I think bad plastic surgery is only going to look all the worse with high definition.

      • And just wait for the new system Sir Peter is using for The Hobbit! Any “work” will be glaringly obvious.

      • Angela had some neck work done, too, if I remember right. But Angela always looked natural. My mom is a huge Angela Lansbury fan!

        Nicole is one of those actresses who is beginning to look a little freaky! Not that I don’t spend 20 minutes each day putting on creams and sunscreen and wear silly hats to keep the sun away. I don’t like my crinkles at all, but I don’t want to look like a plastic doll, either.

    • @Leigh, you had cancer surgery? I’m sorry to hear that.. May I ask what type of cancer it was? Of course I’ll understand if you don’t want to talk about it… (I lost my mum to cancer 4 years ago..)

      • I’m so sorry about your mother, Judit. You have my sympathies.

        I don’t mind talking about it. In my case, the plastic surgeon excised a skin cancer that had grown deep into my neck, and closed the wound in such a way that you really have to look hard to see the scar. That was in 1990. I was extremely fortunate! I also had cervical cancer in 1985, but it was caught very early and I only lost a third of my cervix. Moral of the story: Go get checked!

        Some of the other surgeries left more visible scars, but it’s not as if it could be helped. Beats the alternative, I remind myself.

        • I’m sorry you had to go through all this. Do you still have to go to check-ups? Did you have to undergo chemo- or radiotherapy? My mum was diagnosed in December 1999 with breast cancer, but it was a relatively non-agressive form and caught early so the surgeon removed the tumor and she had “local” radiotherapy. Then she was put on Herceptin treatment. Everything seemed to be going OK but then the cancer returned in early 2005 but this time it was a much more agressive type of tumour. She had another surgery and was prescribed chemo. Despite the chemo, secondaries appeared on her skin (near the scar) a year later. The doctors tried several types/combinations of chemo but her system just couldn’t cope with either of those. She really suffered a lot in her last 2 years. 😦 I go to the gyno yearly for smear tests and also have mammograms every other year…Though it’s not likely to appear until I finish with my periods. Sorry for going on for too long! It’s a terrible illness and it seems to affect almost every family whether rich or poor. 😦 Sorry for the long and OT comment.

          • That’s okay, Judit. Both my parents and my husband had long hard struggles before they finally succumbed. I’ve lost close friends to cancer as well. I have been lucky in that the cancers didn’t metastasize, and I’ve not needed additional treatment, but I do need to go in for screening every year. Once upon a time, I just wanted to hear, “I love you.” Now I want to hear, “We got it all” and “clean margins”.

            • I’m so sorry to hear about your parents and husband, Leigh. 😦 I “only” went through it with one family member can’t imagine what it must have been like to go through it 3 times! You are a very strong girl!

              • Thanks, Judith, but strength is a funny thing. Unlike what Bobbin has to say, “Everything” is not a choice (or maybe it is, but only if you’re a self-centered git). You do what needs to be done and ask questions later.

              • That’s very true, Leigh. I have been through things that part of me said I couldn’t bear, but really, I didn’t have a choice. And I made it through, not unscathed, perhaps, but I made it. It’s amazing how resilient we can be sometimes.

    • I can just imagine. Someone who is SOOOO determined to be the manliest man in the room is absolutely repellent. He could write, though. 😉 Interestingly enough, both he and Gellhorn committed suicide. She took an overdose of sleeping pills at age 89–she had cancer and was losing her sight.

      Ah, we are now under a thunderstorm warning and it’s crackling away out there. I knew my knees were trying to tell me something!

      • I once found myself explaining Hemingway’s importance to American literature to some Spanish friends (in Spanish). I think I did it in less than a paragraph, because once you’ve said that, any comment about the man himself can be summed up as “What a jerk!”

        • I am sure Hemingway himself would appreciate your economical use of words–if not the sentiments expressed. 😉 Ah, our electricity went out twice due to the stormy weather. Seems to have returned to stay. It’s amazing how quickly the room can heat up with no air stirring.

          • Thanks. No, I doubt he’d appreciate the sentiment, but at least I was honest in acknowledging his contribution.
            Now you have power again — gracias a Dios and the power company — I hope you can get your place cooled down, at least enough to be able to rest in some comfort before the next one blows through. Seriously, I should have sent the help I described in my e-mail. It’s been muggy and thick all day here, and my built-in storm alarms are going off.

            • It feels a lot better temperature-wise now. The thunder is rumbling again, 50 percent chance of rain tonight and tomorrow. Benny called earlier to check and see if he needed to pick up anything for me and I must have sounded almost incoherent. I was so hoping for a nap but it never materialized. When he got home he looked at me and said, “You weren’t feeling too well, were you?” LOL

  2. If the character was that much younger than Nicole, then why not cast a younger actress to play her? Probably because the name of Nicole Kidman “sells”..Ah well. The face. I wonder why is there a double standard still. Why is it OK for, say, George Clooney to have wrinkles and lines on his face but not for Nicole Kidman? Why does Kidman feel that she needs to mess with her face? Isn’t she a big enough name (an Oscar winner!) to get cast even if she has a few lines on her forehead? For an actress to numb her facial muscles is the same as if a violinist would deliberately paralyse his/her fingers! I do not understand it.. Btw, just went to check out Clive Owen’s imdb page and found this quote attributed to him: “I don’t “do” emotion. Emotions are overrated. I’m more interested in creating a presence.” Well, if that’s the case then him and Nicole made a fine pair in this movie! 🙂 Though if the characters they were playing were notoriously volatile personalities,they might have been miscast! 🙂

    • And that’s why we LOVE Richard! After all we’re not all on the Clive Effect! I’ve always though he was a rather boring actor. Now I know why!

  3. I always thought Nicole’s head of glorious, strawberry blonde curls was gorgeous. As an Australian, I’m proud of her and what she has achieved, but she has never touched me as an actress, except maybe in “Rabbit Hole.” I can’t think of one role that I have particularly liked, even though she has won critics’ awards and been nominated for numerous others.
    I doubt that Richard will ever have his face touched up, it’s too essential a tool in the way he approaches his craft. Plus he has shown he is refreshingly indifferent to his looks! 🙂

    • I loved her hair like that, too, but now she seems to have it straightened all the time. I haven’t seen “Rabbit Hole” but I did hear she did played the role well. There is almost a–chilliness, a distance to her at times. I feel as if she is acting. Whereas with someone like Cate Blanchett, I can feel an intensity in her performance and a keen intelligence. Yes, there is a real lack of vanity on Richard’s part, thank heavens. And I love that face, every line and crinkle and scar . . . it’s perfect. 😀

    • Are we sure NK’s curls weren’t a perm, it was still very much in fashion at the time those pics were taken? I hope RA doesn’t feel the need to use botox if work isn’t flooding in the way he hopes. Thankfully he seems to have good skin (to tan only rarely helps!) and close up pics show he has a few wrinkles, as he should.

      • Yep, those curls were natural–lots of corkscrews. She obviously goes to a lot of trouble to straighten it these days. What a pain. But then she’s obviously gone to considerable lengths to attempt to erase all evidence of aging from her face, too. 😉 You can see in the close-ups of RA what nice skin he has–some actors’ complexions wouldn’t be able to undergo such scrutiny nearly as well–and the crinkles he has don’t detract, they simply add character to that lovely face. As someone mentioned about NK and how much she has changed over the years, now she looks like one of the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. No longer quite human. If actors are playing humans, I prefer they look like humans, if you know what I mean.

        • When I was looking at the enlarged version of that most recent BAFTA photo of Richard, I was thinking the same thing…that some actors’ complexions wouldn’t pass such scrutiny. I know my own certainly wouldn’t!! 😦

          • LOL There was a nightly newcast on one of our major networks here in the states and it was NOT being broadcast in HD, unlike their other programming. It seems the anchorwoman did not look very attractive in HD–she had apparently had Botox at some point and she had that eternally surprised bat brow going on. Bad plastic surgery and over-use of substances like Botox just make a person look worse with new technology, not better.

            Watching Richard in HD in Robin Hood tonight on this good-sized 1080p flatscreen, I can certainly say he looks SWELL. 😉

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