Taking its subtitle from an expression the more literary of its two subjects used as shorthand for truth and authenticity, John Mulholland’s Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen treats the phrase as a call to arms in its close look at Gary and Ernest’s decades-long friendship. Though it lives up to its high standard in the process, the doc also proves that veritas isn’t necessarily compelling.
Mulholland underscores not only how fascinating their relationship was but also how unlikely: The two men had little in common, and met largely through happenstance. The film is nothing if not thorough—a two-and-a-half hour documentary on such a specific subject pretty much has to be. If Mulholland made The True Gen half as aesthetically pleasing as it is informative, the film would be remarkable. As it stands, its meticulous yet austere approach is unlikely to persuade the unconverted that Hemingway and Cooper’s bond warrants such close study—Mulholland’s reverence betrays a certain myopia.
Though this friendship might serve as a rich launching point for any number of wider investigations, its implications are only touched upon in the final minutes; Mulholland’s pinpoint focus is self-contained to a fault.