There Be Dragons

May 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Dougray Scott
Directed by: Roland Joffé (“The Killing Fields”)
Written by: Roland Joffé (“The Killing Fields”)

It seems like a lifetime ago that two-time Academy Award-nominated British filmmaker Roland Joffé (“The Killing Fields,” “The Mission”) created a historically significant drama as riveting as the stories behind the Cambodian genocide in 1975 and the Christianization of indigenous South Americans in the 18th century. Despite an early flourishing career, Joffé, whose last film was the appalling horror movie “Captivity,” continues his string of disappointments with “There Be Dragons,” a hokey Spanish Civil War epic better suited for a series on daytime TV rather than the silver screen.

The film opens in present time following Robert Torres (Dougray Scott), a Spanish journalist doing research for a book on Roman Catholic priest and Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá (Charlie Cox). Robert begins by questioning his estranged and now dying father Manolo (Wes Bentley), whom he learns attended seminary school with the canonized priest prior to the social and political unrest unleashed across Europe in the mid-1930s as a result of fascism and communism.

“If you want to hear of the past, I’ll tell you,” Manolo says melodramatically to his son as he grows weaker by the day. “But I warn you, there be dragons.” These metaphorical dragons – or in this case, skeletons in the closet – are supposed to help reveal the motivation behind man’s acceptance of a sacred calling. But Joffé’s misguided script Bible-thumps rather than explains anything concretely, while employing more than the occasional cliché.

Through choppy flashbacks and badly written and performed narration (it literally sounds like we’re listening to a stale history lesson taught by Jack Black in “Nacho Libre”), Joffé guides audiences on a quest beginning with the childhood friendship between Manolo and Josemaría, which leads to the two young men taking separate paths during their divine studies. While Josemaría is called on by God to lead his people to enlightenment, Manolo joins the fascist military as a spy and falls in love with Ildiko (Olga Kurylenko), a Hungarian revolutionary fighter unreceptive to his advances.

Relying on ham-fisted dialogue (“Slaying your demons is never easy. Sometimes it’s better to get someone to slay them for you.”), “Dragons” is a one-sided affair that feels like a counter response to films like “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons,” which, of course, don’t characterize members of the Opus Dei in the most amiable ways. It’s unfortunate Joffé fails to capture real emotion and passion within the religious narrative. Without that perspective, there’s no way he can breathe any life into the biopic, much less fire.

Rodrigo Santoro – There Be Dragons

May 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

While Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro admits he does not have a formula he uses when choosing his next role in a film, he does make a conscious decision that the work he is doing is helping him learn and evolve in his craft.

“I take a role because it makes sense to me, rationally,” Santoro, 35, told me during an interview for his new film “There Be Dragons.” “I don’t want to be in a position where I’m playing roles I’m comfortable with and making money, but doing it without feeling like I’m growing.”

In “There Be Dragons,” Santoro stars as Oriol, a militia leader during the Spanish Civil War who catches the eye of a Hungarian revolutionary (Olga Kurylenko). The film, which is directed by two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Roland Joffé (“The Killing Fields”), also tells the story of Josemaria Escrivá (Charlie Cox), a young priest who later becomes the founder of the Opus Dei.

During our interview, Santoro, who is also known for his roles in “Love Actually,” “300,” and “Che,” talked about the extensive research it took to play his character and what he thinks about some of the controversy surrounding the film.

How much of the Spanish Civil War were you familiar with before you joined this project and what kind of research did you do for the role?

I was familiar with what I learned at school, but it was only the basics. I did some very long and deep research on the war. I was in Brazil at the time and there’s this place called Instituto Cervantes (named after “Don Quixote” author Miguel de Cervantes). The Instituto provided me with so much information – books, articles, films, references, and classes. You can study the Spanish Civil War forever. There is endless information on the topic. It’s pretty intense.

Tell me about your character. Was there really a revolutionary named Oriol who fought in the Spanish Civil War or was he inspired by someone else?

Oriol is a fictional name and a fictional character, but he is a representation of all those anarchists. Oriol’s story is that he’s a peasant working the land and waiting his whole life for the revolution. When it finally comes, he totally gets into it body and soul. He is a very brave man – a man of the people. He represents all of those guys.

Some critics of the film are calling it propaganda for the Opus Dei. Do you have any thoughts on some of the controversy behind the film?

I don’t feel like that. I think this film is about faith, betrayal, love, and redemption. I think that’s the film [director] Roland [Joffé] tried to make. Films are made to express life in all its facets. You can never expect to make everyone happy.

How does faith and religion play into your personal life? Were you able to sympathize with the characters in the film who believe a path to God can be found in an ordinary life?

I’m a spiritual person. I’m not very religious. I was raised Catholic, but I am influenced a lot by Buddhism and Hinduism.

How is a film rooted in so much faith like “There Will Be Dragons” affected since it is directed by a filmmaker who is a self-described agnostic?

When I started working with Roland I didn’t ask him about his religion. It wasn’t about that. It was about the amazing artist he is and the movies he had done before like “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields.” We talked about my character and the big conflict he is going through during war. That’s where my focus was as an actor. All my energy was absolutely concentrated on how to tell a great story and nothing else.