Entertainment

The old man and the island in a sea of cliches

Adrian Sparks as Ernest Hemingway in a scene from the film, "Papa: Hemingway in Cuba." The film is the first full-length Hollywood feature filmed on the island since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
Adrian Sparks as Ernest Hemingway in a scene from the film, "Papa: Hemingway in Cuba." The film is the first full-length Hollywood feature filmed on the island since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Yari Film Group

What It’s About

The mythic appeal of legendary author Ernest Hemingway as a man’s man, world traveler, and tormented soul is explored in heavy-handed fashion in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.”

It’s ironic that a writer known for his succinct prose is reduced to clichés after living one of the more celebrated careers of letters and colorful lifestyles in the last century.

Nevertheless, there is enough intrigue to dig in to such a complicated man, but you won’t be sated here.

The movie, set in 1959, is based on writer Denne Bart Petitclerc’s actual friendship with Papa during his later years in Cuba. He took a stab at this screenplay before his death in 2006, and had previously written the screenplay to Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream.”

Known as Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi) here, he is a Miami Globe reporter who gets a front row seat during the Cuban revolution and an inside look at the legend’s life.

His hero worship of the man who becomes his mentor is tested when he visits Hemingway’s 15-acre estate on weekends, and witnesses much unpleasantness.

By then, the Nobel prize-winning writer’s health was in decline, he went through major bouts of depression, and seriously ugly fights with fourth wife Mary, who considered Ed a trusted friend.

The political unrest, with Fidel Castro threatening the Batista regime, is part of the fabric as well, as is the FBI’s watch on Hemingway.

Hemingway would leave Cuba for Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley, and killed himself 18 months after this movie’s time period ends.

Performances

As welcome as it is to see Ribisi (“Ted’) in a leading role, and he is fine as Myers, the romantic subplot with Deb (Minka Kelly) is a mere accessory and adds nothing.

Adrian Sparks looks and sounds like Papa, but is forced to bellow horrendously trite dialogue. Portraying his unhinged side is difficult, and hard to watch, but softened by the apologies.

(A fan randomly blurts out “You look just like ‘The Old Man and the Sea’”! Yeah, they went there.)

Joely Richardson succeeds with the demanding task of going through the highs and lows of being married to Ernest Hemingway as his fourth wife Mary.

What Works

The movie is the first one to be shot in Cuba in 50 years, and the setting is stunning. They were cleared to film at Finca Vigia, his estate, which is now a museum. The island’s beauty is splendidly displayed.

What Doesn’t Work

Hemingway was such a larger-than-life figure that the only decent way to capture him is a miniseries because 109 minutes isn’t enough. Director Bob Yari strings vignettes together and paints in very broad strokes.

A better movie could tell a better story, but at least we get a taste of that moment in time.

‘Papa Hemingway in Cuba’

  • Director: Bob Yari
  • Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson, Minka Kelly, James Remar and Shaun Taub.
  • Rated R (language, sexuality, some violence and nudity)
  • 109 minutes
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