In Love and War (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Dec 20, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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In Love and War (Blu-ray Review)


Richard Attenborough

Release Date(s)

1996 (November 14, 2023)


New Line Cinema (Warner Archive Collection)
  • Film/Program Grade: C
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: D

In Love and War (Blu-ray)

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In Love and War, based on the memoir Hemingway in Love and War by Ernest Hemingway’s friend and fellow World War I soldier Henry Villard, deals with the title character’s first love, an American Red Cross nurse.

In 1918 Italy, 18-year-old reporter Ernie (Chris O’Donnell, Scent of a Woman) reports for duty. He expects to fight at the front but instead is assigned to boost the morale of the Italian soldiers who are in the midst of fighting of a final onslaught by Austrian troops. At the same time, a group of American nurses arrives, among them Agnes (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side), whose goal is to hone her nursing skills and to get away from a zealous suitor.

Ernie succeeds in his quest to join the Italians in the trenches and gets severely wounded in one leg. At the hospital, he’s put under Agnes’ care. The wound is gangrenous and Ernie tells Agnes he’d rather die than lose his leg. No doctor has yet arrived, so Agnes breaks the rules and takes it upon herself to administer treatment that can cure the gangrene. The Italian doctor who eventually arrives insists that amputation is necessary but Agnes, familiar with modern medical techniques, convinces the surgeon to operate in a way that will save his leg. The operation is successful and Ernie, despite being eight years younger than Agnes, finds himself falling for her. Agnes tries to dissuade him but eventually her reciprocal feelings for him win out, setting in motion complications that continue after Armistice.

A romance set amid wartime horrors sounds like it should be suspenseful and captivating, but director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) makes this one a slog with little passion. The most interesting part of the film is the beginning, when we see Hemingway in Italy. With youthful cockiness, he looks upon war as an adventure. Often brash and acting impulsively, he is very much a kid certain he will cover himself with glory at no personal cost, until the grim realities of war hit him. As he heals, we see his energetic generosity toward the other patients in the hospital, but we see little evidence of growth in the character after he recovers. He remains impulsive and egocentric.

Bullock, known for a bubbly screen persona, is rather somber here as Agnes, rendering her humorless and remote. Her performance is so subdued, so restrained, that it’s impossible to believe her character or that that this 26-year-old, experienced nurse has fallen in love with a cocksure teenager, and, In fact, she’s so dull, it’s hard to accept that Ernie is so taken with her.

The handsome young O’Donnell is a curious choice for Hemingway. His casting may have been an attempt to attract young female moviegoers, but his acting is far from convincing, and since the story revolves around his character, this is a major flaw. He’s fine in the early scenes but when more dramatic acting is required, he falls short and there’s little screen chemistry between him and Bullock. Later, when his character is a bearded, alcoholic, tortured soul, O’Donnell is really out of his element, his shortcomings amplified.

In fairness, the actors are hampered by a ho-hum script by Allan Scott, Clancy Signal, and Anna Hamilton Phelan, and sluggish direction by Attenborough. When the war ends, the movie just treads water as the Ernie/Agnes relationship plays out. We’re not sufficiently motivated to care about how these two will wind up. Despite some picturesque Italian locations and faithfully recreated period costumes, military equipment, and vehicles, this is one of the screen’s dullest romantic dramas.

In Love and War was shot by director of photography Roger Pratt on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex Gold and Platinum cameras with Panavision Primo lenses, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Blu-ray features a 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The picture is sharp and distinct, but characters are often deeply shadowed. Occasionally, they emerge from total darkness, making for dramatic compositions. Complexions are especially well rendered and have a golden glow in interior scenes. Battlefield scenes contain explosions, smoke, and flashing lights, contributing to a palpable sense of danger. One beautiful night time shot shows illuminated gondolas idling on Venice’s Grand Canal.

The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an option. Dialogue is mostly clear, though Bullock’s exceptionally quiet delivery often makes her difficult to understand. Sound effects include machine gun fire, explosions, moaning, screaming, and the rumble of ambulance engines. Most of the film is on the quiet side. George Felton’s music often gets heavy-handed as it attempts to pump up emotion that the actors can’t.

The only bonus material on the Blu-ray release from Warner Archive is:

  • Theatrical Trailer (2:26)

In Love and War might have been a more interesting film with a stronger Hemingway and a more appropriate director. The only thing that makes it look better than a made-for-TV movie is the Italian locations. But when the film is over, it leaves you wondering why you spent two hours with it. There are better romantic dramas and there are better war films. This one combines both but leans more heavily on a challenging romance. It’s tough to make a movie about a love affair without a future interesting, especially when the viewer isn’t invested in the outcome.

- Dennis Seuling