There Be Dragons
Directed by Roland Joffé. Starring Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Rodrigo Santoro, Golshifteh Farahani, Derek Jacobi, Rusty Lemorande. (2011, PG-13, 120 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 6, 2011
With the beatification of Pope John Paul II last week, the timing could not be more appropriate for this movie, which includes as one of its central figures Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei and one Catholicism’s most recently canonized saints. Writer/director Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields), in his usual style, locates the personal dramas that reside within historical occurrences. Although the action in There Be Dragons jumps around in time, the central drama at issue occurs in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The past is dredged up when Robert (Scott) prepares to write a book about Escrivá, and discovers early in his research that his own estranged father was a childhood friend of the priest. He proceeds to poke around in the past, a place where we are warned “there be dragons.” Sure enough there are reasons, Robert’s father never talked about his war years or his relationship to Escrivá. Morever, the eventual unfolding of the story also explains the reasons for the emotional distance between the father and the son. This is a story about faith, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Joffé is trying to achieve something epic in this film, as his extended battlefield sequences will attest. Yet There Be Dragons remains rather chilly, and it never acquires the emotional heft necessary to distinguish the personal story from the macrocosmic events surrounding it. It doesn’t help that the film switches between time periods to create a nonsequential narrative that further disorients the viewer, especially one not well-versed in the events under observation. There’s an interesting story here, but Joffe never firmly wraps his arms around it. The filmmaker seems more interested in his grand themes about the separation between saints and sinners than in the emotional details of their deeds.