Roland Joffé’s latest directorial overreach may, as advertised, be ‘fact-inspired,’ but there’s not a single believable frame in it. Supposedly the story of the saintly founder of the controversial Catholic Opus Dei institution (the Good Works Priests), it plays out some pretty dusty Hollywood tropes as boyhood ‘frenemies’ grow up to find themselves on opposing sides of (in this case) the Spanish Civil War in the ‘30s. Told in flashback as a son tries to make peace with his aging dad (the one who took a secular path), Joffé overindulges at every turn with lush compositions, romantic melodrama, corny touchstone memories, useless star cameos (Charles Dance, Derek Jacobi, Geraldine Chaplin) and Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’ quivering on the soundtrack of their lives. It’s an appalling suck up/cop out ‘take’ on some of the more important political & religious tides of the last century as Joffé, who also scripted, uses buckets of hair-splitting narration to pardon characters who literally get away with murder. The real miracle on display is how Joffé manages to keep getting projects. You’d have thought that the deadly run of FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY/’89; CITY OF JOY/’92 and THE SCARLET LETTER/’95 would have done the job long ago, but it seems nothing less than a silver bullet or a stake in the heart will do the trick.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Ken Loach deserved a bigger Stateside audience for LAND AND FREEDOM/’95, an unusually clear-eyed Spanish Civil War pic, though from a foreign perspective.