I was amazed that a film starring three Academy Award winners (Robert De Niro (Raging Bull), Kathy Bates (Misery), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) would be so ignored and passed over by the movie going public. Based on a novel by Thornton Wilder and adapted for the screen and directed by relative unknown Mary McGuckian, the film recounts a tragic incident where several people fell to their death from a bridge collapse. A monk by the name of Brother Juniper (Gabriel Byrne, The Us…al Suspects) tries to piece together the lives of the people involved in the accident, to determine if it was a larger act of divine intervention.
Set in 18th century Peru, the film uses flashbacks to focus on the lives of an aging female aristocrat (Bates), a stage manager named Uncle Pio (Harvey Keitel, Reservoir Dogs), a young, well reputed actress (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) and the Viceroy of Peru (Abraham). Brother Juniper is being tried, because this chronicling of the events led to a book that some declared blasphemous, and the case is “prosecuted” by the Archbishop of Peru (De Niro).
There were a couple of things that I didn’t particularly enjoy about the movie. Not knowing anything about Peruvian history or culture, the fact that these figures appear, and speak no Spanish (good Lord, they barely even enunciated any Spanish words) annoyed me. Whether or not there were a lot of people speaking English in 1714 Peru I don’t know, but it appeared that things were just out of place. They were made all the more so by Keitel’s presence, which was truly a “one of these things is not like the other” moment.
While the story was hard to follow, some of the performances were pretty good. Of the all star cast, Bates seemed to have the most screen time among them. She plays a woman who is torn because her daughter has distanced herself from her, and she appears to reclaim that bond for most of the movie. Of the people in it (and a very muted Byrne), the two aren’t actually half bad in it, but everyone else seems to be phoning it in. Considering the pedigree of the cast, I expected more than I got.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen version of this film really does look excellent. There’s a fine layer of grain throughout the film, black levels are consistent, there’s very few instances of edge enhancement, and the variety of colors that appear and reproduced very well to boot. Overall, it’s far better looking than expected.
The film comes with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 sound tracks. The soundtracks aren’t the problem when watching the movie; everything is reproduced very well, and the scenes within the church are quite pleasant. The problem is the sound design of the film. Some of the dialogue sounds far too hushed and the mix is very inconsistent overall, so the basic stuff could have been improved upon.
Aside from the film’s trailer, along with some other New Line trailers, there’s nothing else here.
It’s a bit of a shame that with all the outstanding actors in this film, that a long, drawn-out, somewhat tired movie would be the end result, but it is. If you want great ensemble casts acting their guts out, rent a Robert Altman movie, but aside from the nice transfer, The Bridge of San Luis Rey is an underachieving structure.
Special Features List