Depending on how it’s used, voiceover narration can either be a pivotal part of the storytelling process or a crutch. Sometimes it’s both. There Be Dragons leans heavily on the latter to the point where any support the voiceover could have given the story of man discovering his own past by investigating another’s snaps under the pressure. There isn’t so much a cohesive narrative to be found in There Be Dragons as there is a narration with sparse scenes breaking up the voiceover’s monotony. At some points it gets so bad that you can’t help but wonder if Roland Joffe intended to make a film, or an audio book. The over-the-top acting would have felt more at home in a radio dramatization, and were it not for some well filmed (but poorly edited) scenes of war, There Be Dragons would be every bit as entertaining to listen to as to watch. Though, that’s not saying much.
In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Josemaria Escriva (Charlie Cox) preached his belief that daily life could lead to salvation as much as any other pure effort. With this belief he founded the institution of Opus Dei and changed the lives of many in a war-torn Spain for the better by giving them hope. Decades later, Escriva’s work qualified him as a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church and Robert (Dougray Scott), the man investigating his life and works, discovers a tie to Escriva through his own father, Manolo (Wes Bentley), who was himself a close childhood friend of the would-be saint. By exploring the life of Josemaria, Robert begins to see sides of his own father he’d never known—and things he never wanted to. His research reveals painful things about his father’s role in the Spanish Civil War all while attesting to the nature of Josemaria’s kindness.
Josemaria’s legacy has great potential to be told on the screen, but even a story staged in the Spanish Civil War can founder when the dialogue and acting are so heavy handed and stilted as this. There Be Dragons has a talented cast filling out its frame, but they’ve been directed so poorly as to be tragic and very disappointing. Roland Joffe proves with There Be Dragons that the filmmaking intuition he displaying in The Killing Fields and The Mission today escapes his grasp. This isn’t the same filmmaker. Joffe has lost his ability to tell a story, and recognize a well-told one when he reads it. He hasn’t made a film here, he’s staged an overly expensive piece of bad community theater.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
A rather candid testimonial from Wes Bentley and deleted scenes are the only two extras.
"There Be Dragons" is on sale January 10, 2012 and is rated PG13. Drama, War. Written and directed by Roland Joffe. Starring Charlie Cox, Dougray Scott, Wes Bentley.