Saturday, May 7, 2011

There Be Dragons (2011)

There have been rumors going around for years that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon never actually wrote Good Will Hunting. Sure, the story goes, they came up with the basic structure and storyline for the film, but various writer friends actually put in the man hours to shape it into what it became: an Academy Award winner. Hence, the duo has never attempted another script.

I think that's crap. The highways of the worlds of science, literature, music, and film are littered with what are lovingly referred to as “one-hit wonders,” people who had one shining moment, one great idea and that was it.

What does this have to do with There Be Dragons? Well, have you looked at director Roland Joffe's filmography lately?

Joffe was an English director best known for his work on the stage and BBC before making his film debut in 1984 with The Killing Fields. That film, detailing the friendship between two journalists during Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Director. His next film, 1986's The Mission, told the story of an 18th century Jesuit missionary in South America. This film also received seven Academy Award nominations, and once again Joffe found himself nominated for Best Director.

Since then Joffe's career has resembled the Iguazu Falls depicted in The Mission. Among the lowlights: the disastrous Demi Moore vehicle The Scarlet Letter, an uncredited turn co-directing Super Mario Bros., and slumming it by wallowing in the torture porn genre with Captivity.

Joffe attempts a return to relevance with There Be Dragons. First things first… no, there are no dragons. There is, unfortunately, a poorly plotted tale involving Opus Dei founder and Catholic saint Josemaria Escriva (Charlie Cox), the Spanish Civil War, and Wes Bentley (American Beauty) plastered in old man latex makeup.

The film begins by telling the audience that the movie is based on true events. Well, yes, the war really did happen and Escriva was a real person, but Joffe invented everything else in the script as a framing device to tell the story of Escriva. We meet Robert Torres (Dougray Scott) while he is researching a biography on Escriva. He finds that his estranged father (Bentley, as both young and old Manolo Torres) may be his most promising source, as he and Escriva were close friends before taking divergent paths. Unfortunately, his father isn't exactly freeflowing with the information, unless you count the endless voiceover narration that occurs during the film. It becomes apparent within minutes of the film that Joffe isn't a big fan of “show, don't tell.”

It can be said without hesitation that Joffe has two masterpieces on his resume. It can also be said that somewhere along the way, whether it was a loss of creative drive or perhaps too much creative freedom, his career came off the rails. Unfortunately for the financiers of this film, this is not the movie that set it all back right.

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