Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)

Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, Shirley MacLaine, Sandra Bullock,
Wrestling Ernest Hemingway is a movie starring Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, and Shirley MacLaine. Two lonely, retired septuagenarians, an unkempt, hard-drinking Irish sea captain, and a fussy, well-mannered Cuban barber form an...
  • 7.1 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Steve Conrad, Writer:
  • Randa Haines, Director:
  • Todd Black, Joe Wizan, Producer:

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7 / 10

one of the best films never seen

The lack of attention this film received is an embarrassment. This is a fantastic film. Simple, elegant and true. Beautifully rendered from all points. In a just world, Duvall and Harris would have shared the Oscar. No other actors that year came anywhere near what these two accomplished. The fact that neither was even nominated is truly shameful.

If you were to ask me what it's about, I guess I'd say that it's about life, death, and rebirth, and all the human stuff that goes with that. Oh yeah, and joy. About how joy can seem like a distant, unreachable memory, when really it can be as close as the next park bench over--if only we have the courage.

If you want to experience a quiet little movie that will move you and reverberate in your memory long after, then seek this one out.

10 / 10

Excellent, engaging, thoughtful movie

This movie isn't for everyone. There is little action, no sex, nudity, or violence, no voluptuous bodies, no chase scenes (the fastest anyone goes is on a tandem bicycle), no glitzy special effects. There are very few characters at all; nearly all dialogue comes from the five top billings, and most from the two central characters: the old men played by Duvall and Harris.

Yet it is one of the most engaging and thoughtful films I've seen in a long time. It deals with aging in a realistic way that isn't morose or gruesome, but instead pulls you into the movie as if you're one of the cast who just doesn't happen to have any lines. You are "there" for the entire two hours and you don't want to leave. You quickly care about these people as if they're your own family members, and you move through the movie with them.

Neither do you want to miss a line. The acting is superb all the way around. Duvall's performance is incredible. I didn't come to IMDb today to write a review; I came to see if Duvall won an academy award nomination for his performance. I'm disappointed that this film appears to have won no awards at all. This is probably more a result of the film's poor box office showing than the quality of the movie (it only grossed $231,700, not enough to even pay the crew, let alone the cast). It's a shame that quality films such as this can't draw enough of an audience to be successful, or to even attract enough attention from Academy members for them to even see it and vote on it.

If you didn't know that Duvall was in this film, it might take you awhile to even realize it's him. I can't say enough about it, and am not a good enough movie reviewer to do his performance justice. I hope you'll just trust me on this one and rent this film. It's worth seeing for Duvall's work alone. The rest will be gravy.

But what tasty gravy it is. If you like movies that draw you in and present characters who are real, whom you care about, who change before your eyes in ways you can relate to and understand, then you'll really like this movie. If you like movies that change you a little, that teach you something about life without being at all obvious about it, that don't try to manipulate you, that are sincere, that elicit a range of your emotions without playing you like a cheap fiddle, then you really should see this.

I'm also disappointed in the movie's rating here on IMDb. I notice that the raw numbers are much higher, but the IMDb special formula has adjusted it significantly downward to factor out "the village idiots." While I'm sure there's a good reason for IMDb's secret adjustment formula and that it is appropriate for many situations, I can't imagine that this is the kind of movie for which village idiots would try to stuff the ballot box. Most people who voted for this movie gave it very high ratings--7 to 10--and I'd recommend that you believe them. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway is a quality movie with broad appeal that will leave you feeling very glad you invested two hours in watching it.

10 / 10

Brilliant cast, beautifully crafted movie

A wonderful character driven film, brilliantly crafted by a gifted director and some of the best acting ever put on film. Robert Duvall inhabits his retired-barber character to the point of being unable to picture him as anyone else, let alone the hard-ass Vietnam Colonel Kilgore who "loves the smell of napalm in the morning". The first time I watched this movie (and trust me, it's worth watching again and again) I completely forgot the actor and was watching the life of this Cuban transplant unfold. And please, oh please, let Richard Harris find another role within which to shine as he did this one. He may be a prolific actor, but I hate to see his talent wasted in such "blockbusters" as Gladiator and Harry Potter.... His face, his eyes... you feel the distance and sorrow his character feels without his uttering a word. Brilliant. I'm constantly amazed when I mention this film that NOBODY seems to have seen it! One of my top ten favorite films of all time.

9 / 10

9/10

In life, one of the simple pleasures for me is getting a haircut, closing your eyes and feeling someone's massaging fingers on your scalp, snipping your wet hair, in the caring hands of an old pro. I came to this fifteen minutes in -- I hope I didn't miss anything crucial -- but in a way, the movies we watch having missed a portion are always more interesting. This is a just a small, easy slice-of-life drama -- a perfect example of a "good little movie," the kind to watch on a Sunday afternoon with someone you love. An actor who never stops taking chances and a master of understatement, Robert Duvall slides into his role of a humble, honorable, respecting Cuban so perfectly here and he's complemented by excellent work from Richard Harris, as the well-meaning but coarse drunken loudmouth ex-sailor in the park he befriends out of a need to simply not be alone anymore. Because of their mastery, we grow so attached to these fully-formed characters that it honestly hurts to leave.

The film is exceptionally well-paced, and written with fresh dialogue and immensely touching observances. There's a scene where Duvall learns his favorite waitress is moving away (Sandra Bullock, with appropriate charm), and the expression on his face and hesitance in his speech rips your heart clean out. Then there's the buried disappoint on his face when he sees her reaction to the farewell gift of vodka suggested by Harris. Where Duvall has his junior league baseball games and poignant dancing in his apartment (alone), Harris gets positively hostile towards a woman (Piper Laurie) in a movie theater (where he works, thanks to a spiffy haircut by Duvall) and Shirley MacLaine, also in his housing complex. The plot is thin but in the meandering vignettes there are superb moments, like Harris accosting Duvall in the street about his fantasy of dancing (whether it comes true, you'll have to watch), or later, Duvall insisting that Harris be a well-dressed gentleman at all times. The sentimental score and old time Cuban music enhance the movie; it's quiet and wonderful -- the years may fly by, but the summer days are nice and slow. 9/10

7 / 10

an unnoticed sleeper

Why is it that all the best movies never seem to make it big? Not enough explosions, car chases, exploding heads, sex scenes? Sometimes it seems that way. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway got barely a moment in the theaters despite the presence of two heavy hitters like Robert Duvall and Richard Harris. It's a real sleeper.

Harris plays Frank, a down-at-the-heels wreck of a dissolute old sea captain and Duvall plays Walter, a retired Cuban barber, very fastidious and introverted and a bachelor. These two polar opposites, alone in their old age, develop a devoted but rocky friendship wherein they learn a lot from each other. The movie has a whole lot to say about loneliness, friendship, old age, living life, and caring and it says it in a strong, yet understated and beautiful way.

It is worth comparing with the glitzy and ineffective "Grumpy Old Men", which tried to be both serious and a comedy and failed at both. This is the `serious' half of that movie done right, even brilliantly.

The odd title comes from Frank's story - repeated ad nauseum to anyone whose ear he can grab - about how he once wrestled Ernest Hemingway in 1936. The screenplay is touching in a restrained way that is all the more effective for its restraint. No tear-jerker scenes to wring the emotion from the audience, and yet it is more emotionally powerful than a lot of run-of-the-mill hankie-twisters. The plot moves to a predictably sad ending, but then moves beyond that to a quiet reaffirmation of life.

The acting is top-notch, as one would expect, although Duvall's Spanish accent is better than Harris' American one. In particular I cannot speak too highly of Duvall in this role. This is the direct opposite of the "Great Santini"-type roles that he does so well, and he is astonishingly effective in playing this fastidious, gentle, shy, repressed, soft-spoken old man. It is a joy to watch him make this character real.

I once heard some critic remark that one mark of a good movie is if you find yourself caring about the characters. On that scale this movie is 12 out of a possible 10.

Shirley MacLaine and Piper Laurie put in well-turned performances, as well as Sandra Bullock in an early appearance.