Roland Joffe looks like he’s trying to get back to his roots with his new film There Be Dragons. (As an aside, who else accidentally reads that as “Randolph Jaffe” instead of “Roland Joffe”? Just me? Okay, moving on.) So Joffe got Academy Award nominations for directing his first two films, The Killing Fields and The Mission. He followed those up with Super Mario Brothers. Wow. That’s the kind of fact you just look at for a second, nod, and say “yeah, drugs were involved.” Maybe he lost a bet. But lest you think he’d get over that speed bump, he’s also the director of the abysmal Captivity of 2007.
There Be Dragons, on the other hand, is a historical drama set during the Spanish Civil War, and focusing on the friendship between a priest (and eventual saint) and a man who becomes a fascist spy. Here’s the plot summary:
There Be Dragons is an epic action-adventure-romance set during the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War. The film is written and directed by Roland Joffe, acclaimed director of The Mission, and features a stellar cast of young actors — Charlie Cox (Stardust), Wes Bentley (American Beauty), Rodrigo Santoro (300), and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace). The story traces the lives of two young men, Josemaria Escriva (Cox) and Manolo Torres, childhood friends who are separated by the political upheaval of pre-war Spain to find themselves on opposite sides as war erupts. Choosing peace, Josemaria becomes a priest and struggles to spread reconciliation by founding the movement “Opus Dei” (Work of God). Manolo chooses war and becomes a spy for the fascists. Manolo commits heinous acts that will torment him until the end of his life. Only on Manolo’s deathbed will Josemaria’s message of forgiveness finally have a profound impact on him and on his estranged son, who comes to learn the truth of his father’s dark past.
Joffe demonstrated (at least twenty years ago) that he can make heart wrenching films about the true horrors that men inflict upon each other, drawing on the raw power of history without turning it into an empty spectacle. And he did it by zooming in tightly on characters, mapping the nuance of companionship. His horrors always seemed to be drawn in the withdrawn silences instead of explosions of violence. He’s got a nice cast to work with here, with the hero from Stardust playing a saint and the neighbor kid from American Beauty playing a traitor. Let’s just hope Joffe doesn’t feel the need to use a blender.
And here’s the teaser trailer: