Three recent films, vastly different and varying in quality, concern the abiding but often fickle paths of the human heart. The first is People Like Us, currently in release. Based on true incidents, this drama details the surprising journey an unlikable young opportunist takes when his estranged father dies. Not only does it take Sam (Chris Pine) back to his roots in L.A. but to a shocking discovery, a half-sister. His father's will stipulates that Sam take $150,000 to Frankie, a recovering alcoholic barkeep with a rebellious child. He must also come to terms with his anger with his late father and his mother (played with understanding by Michelle Pffeifer). Throughout this process, the film treads the thin line between a possible romance between Frankie and Sam but manages to focus on the growth of all the characters. Sounds a bit soapy, yes? And, no. This is a thoughtful, heartfelt drama with fine performances from the entire cast, especially Elizabeth Banks as Frankie, a good woman trying to live a good life despite the odds.
Hemingway and Gellhorn, an HBO movie directed by Phillip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, The Incredible Lightness of Being), is loosely based on the tumultuous relationship between the hard-living, hard-drinking author and the equally hard-nosed Martha Gellhorn. As they cover and even fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, they compete and they fall in love. After the war, they marry, but when Hemingway steals a World War II assignment from her, they begin to fall apart. The film uses interesting editing approaches. We see scenes going from color to black and white and the reverse, when we go from personal stories to the war zones. The characters are even placed in actual news footage, sometimes effectively and sometimes not. Clive Owen plays Hemingway with an unsure hold on this bigger than life figure. He yells a lot, curses often, but still seems much tamer than one would suspect. On the other hand, Nicole Kidman gives Gellhorn a strong and unbreakable spirit. Her actions eventually show that she was first a journalist and not a writer's wife. After all, she is the only woman who divorced Hemingway.
Twins (De Tweeling) is definitely the best of these three dramas. It tells of twin girls who are separated when their father dies. One goes into virtual bondage on a German farm; the other to a privileged life in a Dutch home. At first they try to contact each other, but the families lie and keep them apart. As young adults they come together in the late 1930's as Hitler begins to conquer Europe and kill the Jewish population. But they are torn apart again and again through political and personal conflicts. The film is suspenseful, but more importantly deeply emotional. This is a film to treasure.