THERE BE DRAGONS follows two men, one on the path God has laid out full of love and compassion and the other on a carnal path full of deceit and jealousy.
Narrated from a dying man on his deathbed, the story follows Manola (Wes Bentley) and his recollection of his time with Josemaria (Charlie Cox) during the Spanish Civil War. As children they were best friends until their social class kept them separated. Josemaria was poor but had a loving family while Manola grew up very wealthy but with a greedy distant father. Their teenage years find them as enemies in seminary school. Josemaria finds forgiveness and continues on becoming a virtuous priest while Manola is consumed by anger enlisting as a spy against the rebel uprising. His story of secretly fighting for the wrong side while the girl he loves, loves another man, is interesting but feels somewhat contrived.
The real story is about Priest Josemaría Escrivá (later deemed a Saint) who was the founder of an organization from the Catholic Church called Opus Dei (the Latin phrase for “Work of God”). While we don’t learn much about the organization we learn about the difficulties Josemaria faced trying to escape persecution for being a priest. Through all the hardships and hatred that came his way, his faith and kindness never faltered. For as many that wanted him and all the priesthood dead at that time, there were also many who fought to keep him alive and hidden so he might continue to give peace, comfort and counseling through the Word of God. These actions are nothing short of inspiring and Charlie Cox does an excellent job of a man always trying to do the Godly thing.
While THERE BE DRAGONS succeeds in religious themes, it fails practically everywhere else. The most exciting and interesting parts of the film are dealing with the two men during the war. The movie flat lines every time they cut to Manola as an old man and his reporter son tracking down the story. That connection never rings true. And while the ending reveal and redemption are important, the connection we felt worked more in the past than in the present.
These bookends are used quite a bit in films and I find them to be a hindrance rather than a benefit, bringing the story to dead halt. No offense to the makeup department who worked wonders, but Wes Bentley is simply too young to pass as an old man. The amount of makeup it takes to hide the fact that he is so young ends up fattening his face to an unusual size. Director Roland Joffé cleverly films Bentley as an older Manola through abstract bottles or furniture, keeping him abstractly hidden so the audience might not notice the flaws. Unfortunately, by the end he abandons that technique and the makeup becomes an obvious distraction to the story.
With such films like THE KILLING FIELDS, THE SCARLET LETTER and one of my favorites THE MISSION, Director Roland Joffé tends to favor tragic war stories in history dealing with religious themes using sweeping scores and beautiful cinematography. I personally appreciate the stories he chooses to tell and it is no different here. However, THERE BE DRAGONS lacks the focus and discipline in telling that story. Despite these drawbacks, I think Josemaria’s inspirational part of the story is compelling enough to warrant a mild recommendation.
Video: (Widescreen 2.35:1) Good quality picture, however the scenes that take place during the present are a little flat in tone.
Audio: (5.1 DTS –HD Master Audio) Solid audio work especially during the war scenes.
Facing the Dragons: Inspiring Testimony from Wes Bentley (3:57): Wes Bentley gives his personal story of becoming sober and reestablishing his faith during the filming.
Deleted Scenes (30:54): A bunch of random deleted and extended scenes that are mostly very unnecessary to the film and wisely cut.