Five people are killed in a freak accident when a lofty rope bridge collapses. A priest journeys to discover if there was a divine reason for this bloody disaster. Set in Lima, Peru, during the 18th century and based on th... more »e Thornton Wilder novel.« less
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Thorton Wilder's novel of ruminations about the quality of love and the extremes to which it can be played out is more of a philosophical meditation than a story and this is probably the reason many people feel upended by Mary McGuckian's film, a project she both adapted for the screen and directed. If this film seems a bit on the static side there is a reason: the tale is a testimony before court by Brother Juniper (Gabriel Byrne) about his investigation into the deaths of five people when the rope bridge of San Luis Rey outside Lima, Peru collapsed. Brother Juniper stands before the Archbishop of Peru (Robert De Niro) and the Viceroy of Peru (F. Murray Abraham) and poses the question as to whether the incident was an act of God or just a simple accident.
In order to present his case he has researched the lives of the five who died (mentioning those five would ruin the suspense of the story). We learn about The Marquesa (Kathy Bates) whose daughter has departed for Spain to marry well (the Marquesa is starving for the love of her estranged daughter); the kindhearted Abbess (Geraldine Chaplin) who gives refuge to the unwanted including identical twin men Manuel and Esteban (the mute Mark and Michael Polish) and Pepita (Adriana Domínguez). We also meet Uncle Pio (Harvey Keitel) who serves as a harlequin for the court and raises Camila Villegas AKA La Perichola (Pilar López de Ayala) who loves the stage and the accoutrements more than she loves Uncle Pio. Through the kindness of the Abbess, Pepita is loaned to the Marquesa's household as a surrogate daughter, the twins share their devotion to the court until a tragedy separates them, La Perichola is impregnated by the Viceroy and banned from the city (she raises her little boy, hiding from the world because of her post-partum smallpox disfigurement), and Uncle Pio eventually assumes responsibility of the child out of fatherly love. Five of these people who are true to love's power cross the fateful bridge. Brother Juniper is condemned by the Inquisition for his treason and the meaning of the story is revealed.
The cast is heavy on big names and while they make the most out of the stiff script, they never really touch us the way Wilder's novel characters did. But the trappings of the film are grand and accurately portrayed, the scenery is beautiful, and the costumes are some of the finest period costumes in many a film. This is one of those films that requires careful concentration from the audience, a willingness to not be disturbed by the at times static proscenium stage feeling of the setting, but the rewards of understanding the message are great. There are some fine performances here and the film is definitely worth seeing. It is more demanding than most films - and that is just fine! Grady Harp, October 05"
miakhky | S.B. CA | 05/19/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I loved Thornton Wilder's delicate and moving novel and approached this movie accordingly. By the time I watched it through, I reached a point of exasperation, feeling that so much of it was good or even excellent, yet the pacing suffered and the editing failed to drive the watcher securely along the road to the end. Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel and F. Murray Abraham performed excellently, Byrne in particular. Byrne's ongoing narration does its best to bind the tale together, and his quality of voice enriches this movie, giving it a beauty that persists in my memory. I could only have wished that towards the end he had given us a little more hint of the gathering horror that Brother Juniper must feel at his situation. A horror that will never be allowed a voice. However, Robert DeNiro was horribly miscast. I am a DeNiro admirer; I have particularly loved his roles in such movies as Awakenings and The Deer Hunter and The Mission. But not here. Whether it is due to the director's reading of the character or his own, he lacked the necessary gravitas to persuade me that he believed in his own identity. He came across as light voiced, dismayingly colloquial, and, perhaps due to the shape of his moustache, perilously close to comical.Even his asking for Brother Juniper's death gave him no depth. John Lynch and Geraldine Chapman fill out their characters amazingly for the shortness of their actual time on screen. Katherine Bates disappointed me a little -- I wanted more heart. Given the nature of the Marquesa, I wanted sloppiness, more piggishness and self-pity from her in the beginning. When Byrne in his overvoice speaks of the tyranny that informs her maternal love, we have only really seen the generosity of that love.Perhaps a little more time to watch her reactions, more time to see her ideas developing on her face, would have aided the realization of the character in full. Despite that last comment where I am asking for more rather than less, I wonder if more severe cutting might have helped this film. In visual terms it is beautiful and the details are extremely well realized. I must watch this movie again; I feel that it could have been a truly great film and I feel personally disappointed that it is not."
Be careful with whom you associate! It could cost your life!
KerrLines | Baltimore,MD | 02/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Five people plummet to their graves crossing a suspension bridge in 18th century Peru.WHY did THESE PARTICULAR PEOPLE die is the question? Father Juniper(Gabriel Byrne) has been commissioned by the Spanish Inquisition to determine just that.One thing is certain and only one thing:the five victims all had association with the actress La Perichole. Based from the Thornton Wilder novel of the same name,Mary McGuckian's screenplay minutely examines the facts in the lives of these five victims.This film IS an inquest, and McGuckian's thorough retelling of Wilder's book is accurately brought to the screen with an intelligent portrayal by an all-star International ensemble of the most well known A-list actors in the world.Special mention,though,has to go to Kathy Bates as the Marquesa.She is a wonder!It is also great to see F.Murray Abraham playing a Salieri-like role that grabbed him his Oscar in AMADEUS. For SOUNDTRACK LOVERS,the score written and conducted by Lalo Schifrin and The Philharmonia Orchestra is among the best film scores---very LA MANCHA! Beautifully filmed in Madrid with gorgeous period costumes to boot,THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY is a masterful adaptation of a brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning novel rendered faithfully and rivetingly."
Very mixed bag
magellan | Santa Clara, CA | 02/02/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Please note that I saw this movie on HBO so I can't comment on the quality of the video transfer or its features.
This movie, based on the Pulitzer winning novel by Thornton Wilder, has its moments, and also its share of problems. I'll try to detail them here fairly enough so that you can decide if it's really for you or not.
First of all, the movie's greatest strengths are the wonderful sound track, the exquisite costumes, and the very authentic looking sets and interiors. The music, with its distinctive South American flutes and pipes often getting full play in many of the scenes, perfectly sets the tone of the movie. The second major strength is the amazing period costumes and wardrobe, which seem very complete and accurate to the time. Third, the architecture and the building interiors also seem very authentic, possibly true to the Spanish colonial style itself, although I'm not an expert on this period of architecture. I would have liked to know where it was shot.
Now comes the mixed part. The casting, despite the stellar cast, is very uneven, ranging from excellent to wildly miscast. John Lynch as the military captain and Geraldine Chaplin as the mother superior are both superb although they have relatively small supporting roles. Pilar Lopez de Ayala is also quite convincing in her role as the actress, La Perichole.
I'm big admirers of the next three actors, but they're just not well cast in their roles. Harvey Keitel, as the uncle and go-fer for the court of the Peruvian Viceroy, is actually okay, but I think historical movies just aren't his venue. The same goes for Kathy Bates as the Marquesa. But Robert de Niro, as much as I admire his work in general, is just miscast as the Archbishop who prosecutes Gabriel Byrne's case. Byrne himself, though, is excellent in his role as father Juniper. And F. Murray Abraham is very convincing in his role, and here he has a part not that different from the role of Antonio Salieri which he played in Amadeus or the Grand Inquisitor from In the Name of the Rose. If there's anyone who can project aristocratic hauteur better than he I'd like to see it.
The pacing of the movie is quite stately, although certainly not glacial, requiring some patience from the viewer. However, the movie timeline might be a source of confusion to some people, which involves the use of flashbacks, although it's actually done well here. But if you don't know the original story it could be difficult to follow, or to understand why the main characters get the coverage they do, since that's not really revealed until the very end. The movie progresses by this series of flashback-like vignettes or substories, until we reach the very final scene in the courtroom where it all finally comes together.
The dialogue comes off as stilted at times but that isn't the fault of the movie since the dialog in the book was highly stylized also as per the period. The over-arching theme of the book--how love can be a two edged sword in people's lives--either transforming it for good or for evil--makes an interesting idea around which to build the story. That part at least comes off well in the movie.
So there you have it--a very mixed bag of a movie with uneven casting, a complicated, possibly hard to follow story, the slow pace--but based on an interesting idea and with a strong sound track, costumes, and settings. Whether you decide to see it or not depends on how you weigh the good and bad points I discuss here. Whichever way you decide, good luck!"
Who is Mary McGuckian and can we thank her enough?
Josef Bush | Phoenix, AZ | 09/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"(Well, she is the director of this wonderful film.)
I never thought to be able to see Thornton Wilder's novel realized adequately in my lifetime. That it has been done -- and very beautifully -- is a tribute not only to the many gifted artists who contrived it, but to the producers who paid for the attempt. Such men and women deserve medals.
The film is magnificent to look at, and the actors excellent. Some may be disenchanted by listening to these tremendously celebrated people in American POP art, with their so-famous American voices; voices which seem intrinsically wrong in an historical context, but all that can be resolved by listening to the film in Spanish.
Like the character in the story, Uncle Pio, I too am strongly attracted to women's beauty -- why bother otherwise with film -- and find to my delight that Pilar Lopez de Ayala who plays La Perichola is as beautiful as legend might wish, and in the same style as the magnificent Eva Green, whom she closely resembles.
Outside of that what need one say? The Bridge is magnificently costumed and was brilliantly mounted (in Spain) which evokes the vanished magnificence of old Lima. Interiors are astonishing, exteriors are wondrous. The story?
A man of sincere and orthodox faith attempts to use scientific methods to not only demonstrate the working of god's intent in a random, fatal accident involving many, but to justify his method. (Relapsed Roman Catholics may struggle not to fall to their knees and tear their hair. But...) The story is not facile, and though it is profound, it is not difficult. Rather, it is universal. It is a sublime story, and all I can do here, is encourage people to plunge into the experience, and then get out of the way, quickly, before making a fool of myself."