There Be Dragons: ”When you forgive, you set someone free, yourself.”

Year: 2011
Directed by Roland Joffé
Produced by Roland Joffé,Ignacio G. Sancha,Ignacio Núñez and Guy J. Louthan
Written by Roland Joffé
Cast: Charlie Cox,Wes Bentley,Dougray Scott,Unax Ugalde,Olga Kurylenko,Golshifteh Farahani, Geraldine Chaplin and Rodrigo Santoro

A journalist investigates the life of a saint that has a connection to his long-estranged father. A connection that digs up personal dragons for the journalist to face.

In the 30s, a rift known as the Spanish Civil War threatens to split Spain in half. It is in this chaotic turmoil that There Be Dragons explores through the lives of two men, a passionate saint, and a passionate sinner. Although Josemaría Escrivá is introduced as the main centerpiece, he’s actually more of a passive player to the main drama. There Be Dragons has the makings of a heartwarming biopic, but that only is a smaller piece to a redemptive story of a fatherly love. There Be Dragons is a story of startling contrasts. The life parallels between the lives of Josemaría Escrivá and Manolo Torres contrasts a life of faith with a life of no faith.

Both men face an endless barrage of personal dragons. Josemaría Escrivá battles his dragons by his unwavering faith while Manolo Torres give into his personal dragons. The way each man tackles their personal dragons delineates the narrative’s themes and structure. The resulting emotional drama comes from a place of genuine warmth. Josemaría Escrivá is genuinely inspiring as well, but Josemaría Escrivá is also ironically a continual problematic flaw. Josemaría Escrivá as a goody two shoes role model robs him of much-needed depth. There isn’t much organic grow from an everyman to a lovable saint. It literally happens on an epiphany. Josemaría is a shining example of humanitarianism to a Spain collapsing under political unrest. Him having to bob and weave within this political unrest to keep his integrity as a priest does provide a glimpse into the social complexities of Spain then. Yet, much of Josemaría’s struggles doesn’t have much of an impact on Manolo Torres, nor does the vice versa happen. So, the duality between the two feels paper thin. The clear-cut contrast is always evident yet it is always in a greater need of further substance.

Manolo Torres is a fairly complex personality. The potential to develop him fully isn’t realized since a lot of screen time is lost on Josemaría’s loose ends. Manolo Torres is the son of a rich factory whose sent in as a spy to infiltrate Republican forces. He feels no attachment to either of the opposing ideologies. Manolo is a drifter. The initial lack of moral stakes causes him to lose his moral compass. Manolo falls into selfish villainy. Manolo’s tragedy is a complete inverse of the typical star-crossed lovers routine trapped in a warzone. He’s the unwanted third wheel. It’s quite the twist. Manolo’s trauma and alienation from his son is given a startling revelation and justification.

Yet, this intrigue falls short of true greatness as it requires further exploration, and too short. It is fundamentally flawed, yet through the dark backstory behind Manolo emerges a heartfelt intricacy to the drama. It’s an odd and distressing sensation that ripples back to the central drama of an estrangement. Despite that, the excessive attention on Josemaría disrupts the flows of this central conflict; the resolution to the estrangement is a well-earned lesson of forgiveness and acceptance. So, the religious overtones coalesce effortlessly to a heartwarming closure.

Its polished production values has the bad misfortune of having an unpolished script.A confusing and misguided biopic that takes many odd creative choices and wrong turns. Yet, even from this mess, arises an encouraging tale of filial love overturning past sins.

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