WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Pulp writer Robert E. Howard, creator of the Conan the Barbarian character, was a man who walked alone. He gave himself energetically to his fiction, infusing his characters and stories with passion and enthusiasm. The same, unfortunately, was not true of his human relationships: He was so misaligned personally and socially that he committed suicide at an obscenely young age.
The Whole Wide World springs from a memoir titled One Who Walked Alone, written by a woman who loved Howard—Novalyne Price Ellis—whom Renee Zellweger portrays in the film. Vincent D'Onofrio plays Howard. The year is 1933, the setting Brownwood, Texas. The story begins with the shy meeting of the two writers—he an established contributor to Weird Tales, and she a school teacher with writing ambitions. A friendship builds, and then a tentative romance, in which she is drawn to his energy as a writer and he grows fond of her even though he can't abide the notion of a life shared. The film is witness to the ups and downs of their relationship: They—mostly he—talk about the craft of writing, about creativity and thought, as much as they talk about their burgeoning love. They're coming from separate directions as far as writing is concerned, and you certainly get the idea that perhaps they might never be compatible. And yet there's a definite spark between them, squeezed for all it's worth against a backdrop of Depression-era Texas. Probably the best moments are those when Howard gets all riled up, telling Novalyne about Conan, the soundtrack bursting with the spirit of his imagination as it echoes with clanging swords and animal cries, echoing across the Texas dusk.
The two lead performances are striking, powerfully embodying the participants in this strange love affair. D'Onofrio is particularly effective as Howard, infusing the man with great passion and verve. It's clear that this project is important to him. By the time the inevitable happens, you're torn up almost as much as Novalyne.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Sony Pictures Classics presents The Whole Wide World in a non-anamorphic transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image looks dark and murky, with a serious lack of fine detail. Close-ups are adequate, but backgrounds are hopelessly lost in haze. Digital artifacts are present, and aliasing is ever-present and annoying. This movie deserved better.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 2.0 sound presentation is adequate, not offering much in the way of a dynamic aural experience, but dialog is faithfully rendered, if a bit thin.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
All you get are filmographies for the two leads and the director.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The Whole Wide World is a fascinating look at not only one of the greatest pulp writers who ever lived but also a complicated relationship given life by two admirable actors.