There Be Dragons

14 Jun

Title: There Be Dragons
Roland Joffé
Writer: Roland Joffé
Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Dougray Scott, Unax Ugalde, Olga Kurylenko, Golshifteh Farahani, Geraldine Chaplin, Rodrigo Santoro, Derek Jacobi, Lily Cole
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, violence and combat sequences, some language and thematic elements
122 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


I didn’t like There Be Dragons, there’s just no other way around it and I’m just going to go out and say it from the get-go, it just seriously did nothing for me. I mean, it actually looks pretty damn decent, and if these sort of productions values had been given to a better direction or script then I actually think this had a ton of potential in it. And it’s even more discouraging when the writer-director in question is Roland Joffé, who’s actually a two-time Academy Award nominee for The Killing Fields and The Mission, which are two very decent flicks, so it’s not as though this was an unproven new guy handling this wannabe-epic, it was a guy who’s been great before but that just did absolutely nothing worth praising in this one.

And, actually, the direction provided by Mr. Joffé is not entirely terrible, I mean, it’s pretty bad, but it’s not what made this film feel a bit unbearable to me. That would be the script, written by Mr. Joffé himself, which is a clear front-runner to win the year’s worst screenplay prize, it’s really that bad. You get him trying to mix up two stories into something cool with a lot of battle sequences just jammed up in there and doesn’t work for a second, you get him trying to be super emotional and spiritual with the stuff he’s writing, but the language he uses is just so indisputably terrible that it’s just an absolute crapfest.

The plot is basically a stab at a Spanish Civil War epic mixed with a biopic of the founder of the Opus Dei religious organisation, with an added fictitious rivalry between that man, Josemaría Escrivá, and Manolo, who was his best friend as a child. And Manolo is played by Wes Bentley, who a decade ago was part of that trio of young actors to come out of the masterpiece that was American Beauty, alongside Mena Suvari and Thora Birch, that everyone expected to go on to exceptional things, but, much like his two co-stars, just didn’t (though Ms. Birch was in Ghost World which is pretty terrific, but nothing beyond that). My guess is that the assumed greatness didn’t happen, even if the talent was there, because Mr. Bentley probably just doesn’t know how to judge a good screenplay even if he was in that one perfect film, proven by the fact that not only was he in last year’s Jonah Hex, a film even worse than this one, but that he’s actually been caught on record stating that this film rivals American Beauty in character, and I won’t even get started about how stupid that made him sound.

The story is just poorly told really, structurally it just feels like different blocks of narrative and structure that didn’t fit well together just crammed uncomfortably next to one another, and it’s pretty much all told via flashbacks. We get to see Manolo as a fascist spy and falling in love with a Hungarian revolutionary played by Olga Kurylenko who’s in turn in love with the Republic military leader played by Rodrigo Santoro, a guy I actually quite like in everything except in this film (even though he’s probably the best part about it) and in his infamously disliked role in Lost.

It really is astonishing to me seeing a director like Mr. Joffé, with two Academy Award nominations in the eighties sort of falling down this downward spiral the last few years, making The Scarlet Letter, which totally bombed, that one Elisha Cuthbert torture-porn sort of flick, and that other one inspired by and starring t.A.T.u. the Russian lesbian pop duo. Just a very bizarre turn of events for him. And in paper him tackling a historic epic about the paths two childhood friends take during the Spanish Civil War would seem like a comeback vehicle of sorts for him, but in the end it’s just as wrong as his other recent efforts, and it’s just a true pity to watch a proven director stumble so badly at this point of his career.

Maybe the failure of this film had a bit to do with the fact that the Opus Dei itself, probably still reeling after the bad image they were given with Paul Bettany’s character in The Da Vinci Code, provided some of the funding for this film and as a result, I would guess, they were hell bent on being show in a very positive light, with Escrivá, a man who was canonized in 2002, portrayed pretty much unequivocally as the saint he would later be named, totally selfless and just being very good. That means that the character is pretty uninteresting because you just know that in such times no one would be entirely like that. And of course, on the other hand, Manolo, played rather badly by Mr. Bentley, is portrayed as the exact opposite of this.

So there you have it, if you ask me then I’d advice you to avoid There Be Dragons at all costs. It’s not the worst film I’ve seen all year, but that’s because the battle sequences were actually kind of great, and from the look of it you’d guess it was a film budgeted at more than its reported $35 million, so if only for that I will give it a ‘high’ failing grade, because I liked the look of the battles. And I’d say I liked the look of everything in it, but there are scenes with Manolo as an old man and Mr. Bentley is seen in this make-up to make him look old that’s just as ridiculous as the accents and the horrible lines the characters in here spit out.

Grade: D+


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