The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
The old adage about good literature being adapted into bad films and vice versa could be applied even to Pulitzer Award-winning novels. In case of Thornton Wilder's THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY, there were two Hollywood adaptations - made in 1929 and 1944 - proving this point. In 2001 the novel was quoted by Tony Blair during his speech about 9-11 attacks and this probably served as an impetus for a consortium of European film companies to try a third version. The result of their effort, 2004 drama written and directed by Irish playwright Mary McGuckian, could be best described as "third time - not a charm".
The plot is set in early 18th Century Peru. Brother Juniper (played by Gabriel Byrne), a Franciscan monk, is a witness to a terrible tragedy. A ancient Inca rope bridge he was about to cross only minutes later suddenly fails, leading five people to their deaths. Brother Juniper is shocked by the incident and spends next few years collecting any conceivable bit of information about victims, trying to find whether there was some higher purpose in their deaths. Results of his findings are collected in the book whose conclusions aren't particularly liked by Church authorities embodied in Archbishop of Lima (played by Robert de Niro). Brother Juniper is tried for heresy and during the trial he tells about the incident victims and their lives.
With 24 million US$ of budget, THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY was one of the more expensive European films of recent times. Its price tag can be seen not only in cast that includes such big Hollywood names like de Niro, Harvey Keitel or Kathy Bates, but also in elaborate recreation of early 18th Century through costumes and other period details (with Spanish locations being good ersatz for Peru). Unfortunately, all that splendour does poor job of hiding the emptiness of characters and pedestrian pace of the film. While some actors fare relatively well in their struggles with poorly written roles, Gabriel Byrne kills any enthusiasm for the story with his slow and flat narration. In the end, although watchable, THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY leaves audience with the same unanswered question as the one asked by its narrator.
RATING: 4/10 (+)