The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.
Sandra has had her hits and misses throughout her career, and one of her middling misfires of the mid-90s was the earnest (no pun intended) but dull World War I drama In Love and War. There’s a reason Sandra has never made another historical epic; she doesn’t really suit the genre. She even admitted in an interview that she was in every way a chick from the ’90s. (Of course, the underrated Infamous proved she could play historical figures. More on that film later.)
She told the Oscar-winning director Richard Attenborough before filming to make sure she didn’t do any “Bullock-isms,” basically saying she wanted to play the character straight and not bring any of her trademark charm and wit. Well, he listened to her, and so she gives her character almost zero personality, making for one of the least interesting characters she’s played on-screen.
Chris O’Donnell portrays her love interest, Ernest Hemingway, a man who spends much of the movie interested in having sex with and marrying Sandra’s nurse character more than he is in working on his writing. There was a period in the mid-90s where O’Donnell appeared as the lead in a few movies (1995’s Circle of Friends is probably the best of the bunch), and while he’s OK in an ensemble, he doesn’t have enough presence to carry a two-hour film. To make matters worse, he has little chemistry with Sandra.
In Love and War can be looked at as Sandra’s first shot at an Academy Award (the studio gave the film a limited Oscar-qualifying run at the end of December, then released it wide a month later), but unfortunately once the reviews hit, any buzz for awards was long gone. Not that anyone can fault Sandra for taking on this project thinking some recognition could come from it; when the man who made Gandhi tells you he wants you to star in his next big epic, it makes sense to say yes.
The film is stilted from the start, with a brief WWI battle scene that looks like it was shot in one day on a budget half the amount needed. The next portion of the film finds Hemingway in the hospital recovering, with nurse Agnes taking care of him day and night, trying to save his leg. He starts hitting on her right away, but for the first half of the movie, she ignores him. Then, on a night when she mourns the loss of one of her patients, she finds herself drawn to him, and she (finally) kisses him. When he later comes to visit her, they have sex in an ugly brothel, of all places. Sounds like a happily ever after, right? Unfortunately, he leaves, and the two are ultimately never meant to be.
Sandra told Pete Hammond at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival that of all the films she had made, In Love in War was the one she wished she could go back to and do over again, knowing what she knows now. Not that anyone could blame her; most everybody in the world has forgotten about In Love and War. There’s little drama and romance, and it has a bummer of an ending that lacks the emotional gravitas a film like this needs. After her more recent successes with The Blind Side and Gravity, it seems likely she would make a better film of the same subject matter these days than the one made in the ‘90s — if the opportunity ever presented itself.
Ten years before the release of In Love and War, Sandra was getting a poisonous dart shot in her neck in her laughable film debut Hangmen. So by the end of 1996, one would admit she had definitely come a long way. After the huge success of that summer’s A Time to Kill, Sandra was officially a high-profile movie star. Although her career would take some bad hits over the next five years, it was safe to say that Sandra was here to stay.
Best Scene: Sandra slaps O’Donnell in the face.
Best Line: “Then close your eyes.”
Sandra made Wrestling Ernest Hemingway three years prior. The two films are not related, although one could argue she wrestles with Ernest Hemingway in bed off-screen.
Sandra was paid $11 million for her role.
In real life, the relationship between Ernest and Agnes was never consummated, and they did not meet again after he left Italy.
Brendan Fraser tested for the role of Ernest Hemingway. He went on to play Sandra’s husband in Crash.