In Love and War

1996, PG-13, 116 min. Directed by Richard Attenborough. Starring Sandra Bullock, Chris O’Donnell, Mackenzie Astin, Emilio Bonucci.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Jan. 24, 1997

It seems like some kind of cruel joke that a lot of movies lately are based on books through which I struggled in high school. Suddenly, the mysteries of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet unfold before me at the Highland 10; where was this movie when I was muddling through the play during the hell of high school? I had a similar experience watching this new film by Richard Attenborough (Chaplin) about the early love life of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway immortalized that time in A Farewell to Arms, another of my required, somewhat impenetrable high school texts. Attenborough’s film, however, is based on the book Hemingway in Love and War, by Hemingway’s friend and fellow WWI compatriot Henry Villard and details Hemingway’s first - some say his only - love, with American Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky. Unfortunately for me, watching In Love and War did not open my mind to the nuances of first love that I had been too dense to understand in high school. Instead, Attenborough’s film seems to struggle under the combined weight of spark-less chemistry between leads Bullock and O’Donnell and the tendency of the director toward sweeping epic strokes, even when the moments might best be played out quietly. In 1918 Italy, a brash 19-year-old American reporter named Ernest (O’Donnell) reports for duty as a kind of cheerleader-cum-soldier to boost the morale of the Italians, who are trying to stave off a final demolition by the Austrian troops. At the same time, another American arrives in Italy, a nurse who has come to Europe to improve her skills and flee an overzealous suitor. When young Ernie is shot in the leg during his first visit to the front, he finds himself under Aggie’s care. Thanks to her knowledge of progressive medical techniques, he recovers nicely and finds himself falling for her despite their age difference. Being the older of the two, Aggie is more cautious, yet ultimately she too admits to tender feelings. There are some sweet moments here, but they’re few and far between. O’Donnell’s fresh-faced acting and general overeagerness (granted, a trait that young Hemingway apparently had in spades) become irritating. My sympathies lie with Agnes and her painful decisions; the character of Hemingway becomes an afterthought and not just because he gets less screen time. The film begins with Agnes’ voice-over, which suggests this will be her story, but the script never seems to make up its mind on that point. This unevenness and the lackluster romantic energy between Bullock and O’Donnell made In Love and War more of a homework assignment than an enjoyable moviegoing experience.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Richard Attenborough Films
An epic biopic, over three hours in length, Gandhi captures the spirit of the man and his struggles. The film won eight Oscars and Ben ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 22, 1999

Robert Downey Jr. received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor with this portrayal of the film-comedy pioneer in a biopic that focuses on the tragedy that haunted Chaplin's life and his battles with the U.S. government.

Louis Black, Jan. 15, 1993

More by Alison Macor
'The Last Supper'
'The Last Supper'
'Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas': an excerpt

Feb. 26, 2010

Grosse Pointe Blank
The film is a wacky joyride through a hit man's high school reunion.

April 11, 1997


In Love and War, Richard Attenborough, Sandra Bullock, Chris O’Donnell, Mackenzie Astin, Emilio Bonucci

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle