THERE BE DRAGONS
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
Roland Joffe, director of “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields,” takes on religion and war in his latest film “There Be Dragons.” The story jumps around in time, from modern day to the Spanish Civil War, which coincided with the rise of fascism at the head of World War II.
A reporter (Dougray Scott) is commissioned to write a book about the founding of the Opus Dei and its founder Josemaria Escriva (Charlie Cox). This gives him an opportunity to get closer to his father (Wes Bentley), a childhood friend of Escriva. He digs into the past and discovers secrets in these men’s lives that change his own worldview and his concept of self.
I respect Joffe’s scope of this film, making a war movie that doesn’t necessarily feel like a war movie. Instead of putting the audience in the heart of the action or even in the middle of a resistance movement, we see the war through the eyes of two very different people. The audience swerves into war, but these are fleeting scenes. Instead, we see how the characters choose to react to war and the unpleasantness that come with it.
For as big as this movie feels, it is an intimate film for Joffe, examining the worldview of religion and family.
Unfortunately, the drawback is that it is all quite confusing. Without a separate history lesson, it’s hard to keep this war straight. Told in multiple flashbacks that literally span the entirety of the first part of the 20th century, character developments are scattered throughout, but it’s hard to see how everything fits together in the big picture. With shifting loyalties of characters in the film, I had a hard time keeping it all straight.
So, yes, the film looks beautiful. But unfortunately is stumbles over itself too often to fully realize greatness.
The Blu-ray is pretty sparse in terms of extra content. There’s a nice assortment of deleted scenes, though the long film itself made it tough for me to watch all of these. Were the plot a little more cohesive, I might have felt more like delving into the additional backstory. The other special feature is “Facing Your Dragons: Inspiring Testimony from Wes Bentley.” This is an unexpected personal statement from Bentley talking about overcoming substance abuse as he prepared for the film. It’s not terribly relevant, but it’s unique.