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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

AMONG the hy­per­bole about tele­vi­sion out­per­form­ing cin­ema, the worth of US pay-TV chan­nel HBO is a tad overblown.

Af­ter chang­ing tele­vi­sion with Sex and the City, The So­pra­nos and The Wire, HBO has not only de­liv­ered more ac­com­plished se­ries but has en­sured the trope for cul­tural crit­ics is ‘‘tele­vi­sion drama is the new novel’’.

The News­room is not one of its bet­ter se­ries yet it was greeted with joy be­cause it came from Aaron Sorkin, cre­ator of The West Wing and writer of The So­cial Net­work. His lament about the diminu­tion of mod­ern me­dia, star­ring Jeff Daniels as a lib­eral news firebrand (is there such a thing?) be­gan promis­ingly enough but re­sorted to his worst ex­cesses as a writer: sel­f­righ­teous­ness and in­tel­lec­tual bul­ly­ing.

It felt as if it was good and it re­mains frus­trat­ingly watch­able but it was in­con­sis­tent, with strong episodes full of piety and im­prob­a­bil­i­ties. It didn’t pos­sess Sports Night’s light­ness or the ve­nal char­ac­ters and wit of Stu­dio 60 on the Sun­set Strip, which failed be­cause it was on free-to-air net­work tele­vi­sion (NBC). It would have been per­fect on HBO.

Just as in­ter­est­ing are HBO’s tele­movies. For in­stance, tonight Steven Soder­bergh’s tele­movie about Lib­er­ace star­ring Michael Dou­glas and Matt Da­mon, Be­hind the Can­de­labra, is a strong chance to win Cannes film fes­ti­val’s Palme d’Or. Wouldn’t that be amus­ing?

Philip Kauf­man’s Hem­ing­way & Gell­horn (MA15+, HBO, 267min, $34.95) is the lat­est in HBO’s big-name tele­movie strat­egy.

Kauf­man, di­rec­tor of The Un­bear­able Light­ness of Be­ing and Henry & June, cor­rals Clive Owen and Ni­cole Kid­man in the tale of the fa­mous nov­el­ist’s time with his third wife, war cor­re­spon­dent Martha Gell­horn.

I’m fond of ‘‘Papa’’ af­ter an edi­tor once gave some suc­cinct ad­vice to this overly ver­bose, young writer: ‘‘Just read f . . king Hem­ing­way!’’

Ernest lived a life; the more biopics of it the bet­ter, I say. But this his­tor­i­cal drama doesn’t quite con­vince de­spite Kid­man’s ex­cep­tional per­for­mance as Lau­ren Ba­call, I mean, Gell­horn.

Her per­for­mance stands within a film that stylis­ti­cally doesn’t al­low the au­di­ence in, partly be­cause of its bud­get. Kauf­man and edi­tor Wal­ter Murch’s fun in insert­ing the char­ac­ters Zelig- like into news­reel footage and com­pos­ited ef­fects works tech­ni­cally but it un­der­mines any in­ti­macy or be­liev­abil­ity the story aims to build. That car­toon­ish stylis­tic flour­ish is only em­pha­sised by Owen’s silly por­trayal of Papa.

No one is helped by the screen­play. In a long film, con­structed dia­logue straight from Hem­ing­way’s works or adapted from his tone gives a comic ‘‘truthi­ness’’ (the no­tion con­structed by US satirist Stephen Col­bert) rather than truth. The film’s ‘‘Hem­ing­way-ness’’ doesn’t work.

But as with most of HBO’s out­put, I’m glad they tried to make it work. I just don’t come to HBO to over-praise it.

(M) Para­mount (125min, $39.99)

(MA15+) Road­show (90min, $39.95)

(M) HBO (564min, $39.95)

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