Review: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Set in 18th Century Peru Gabriel Byrne is monk Brother Juniper, interested in the topic of ‘acts of God’, and is now on trial for heresy after daring to investigate (and document in book form) the religious significance of lives lost on a fateful day crossing the title bridge. Scientific investigation being applied to theological matters? That’s a no-no, according to the Inquisition! Whilst the trial proceeds (headed by Archbishop Robert De Niro), we are shown flashbacks dealing with the lives of those involved in the tragedy (and not just those who died in the collapse). Kathy Bates plays the rather pathetic, sad Marquesa, whose daughter (Emilie Dequenne) has fled home and all but disowned her. De Niro assigns the poor, lonely woman a nun (Adriana Dominiguez) as a companion. F. Murray Abraham (who really ought to act in films more often!) is the devious viceroy of Peru, with Dominique Pinon continually stealing scenes as his fop. Harvey Keitel is a small theatre company impresario obsessed with a beautiful actress who is also involved with the viceroy. Geraldine Chaplin plays a strong-willed Abbess. The Polish Brothers play twins who seem to live in a world of their own, with their own secret language.

Despite a massive and eclectic cast, this 2005 Mary McGuckian (“This is the Sea”, with Gabriel Byrne) film is a mostly tedious, indifferently acted trial to sit through. It might have more significance for those familiar with the Thornton Wilder novel or those more schooled in religion than I am. I was as lost to the film’s point. I’m guessing events depicted have some kind of religious significance that is not clearly defined, certainly not until towards the end). I was bored. Of the cast, Pinon is probably the standout (he’s the only one who looks like he’s having fun), though Byrne and Chaplin are serviceable too. De Niro is wasted, Bates is howlingly hammy and miscast, Keitel is incongruous (just as many believed him to be in “Last Temptation of Christ”), and Abraham is especially uneven.

All this screen talent should’ve resulted in a more captivating film than this flop. A serious, tedious disappointment.

Rating: C-


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