There be dragons in Judge David Johnson's gym bag. And by "dragons" we mean "fungus."
Even saints have a past.
In case you didn't know, Spain held a pretty ugly Civil War during the 1930s that left over a half million of its citzenry dead. This horror is the backdrop of There Be Dragons, a film about loyalty and religious convention and not necessarily about war.
Oh, there are war scenes, and they're shot in scattering degrees of epic, impressive fashion. But at its heart, the film is a character study about two men—boyhood friends who embark on wildly divergent paths during the course of the war.
The narrator is Manolo (Wes Bentley, American Beauty), son of a wealthy man who finds himself drawn into the rebel faction that has risen up to take down the Spanish government. In the present day, his son (Dougray Scott, Mission: Impossible II) is investigating a priest up for canonization and his research reveals secrets about his father.
The priest is Josemaria (Charlie Cox, Boardwalk Empire), the long-time friend of Manolo. Josemaria is drawn into the church, opting for a career as a priest, which leads him to the founding of Opus Dei, resulting in millions upon millions of dollars given to writers and directors with a hard-on for using secret Catholic factions as bad guys.
What you have with There Be Dragons is a slow burn of an enterprise that takes the first third to gain traction. But if you can soldier through the muddled opening 30 minutes, you'll be rewarded with a solid mixture of period drama and character-heavy storytelling, set against a historical time period rarely seen in feature films.
There is enough plot to justify the two hour runtime, though I think tightening the pace early on could have helped move things along at a brisker pace. Regardless, There Be Dragons is worth a look. The action isn't over-powering, but the brief war scenes have weight, thanks in large part to the characterization that is bound to them. The battle sequences not only give an excuse for the pyrotechnic guys to light off some sweet explosions, but they further the story.
The parallel storylines of Josemaria and Manolo are both satisfying. Manolo's tale is more hard-hitting, littered with betrayal, darkness, and forgiveness, while Josemaria's is a straight-arrow saga of faith and survival. Different dramatic impact, but both engaged me effectively. (Though the ending, like the opening, dragged a bit and suffered from confusing sentimentality.)
There Be Dragons (Blu-ray) is lean but adequate: a nicely-rendered 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer that delivers on the sound and the fury of its war scenes as well as the intimate nature of the character work. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provides an active aural mix. Extras: Deleted scenes, and a surprisingly candid and personal interview with actor Wes Bentley.
Not Guilty. There Be Dragons has a few starts and stops, but there's a worthwhile story here to be heard.
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