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:: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Boasting an all-star cast of Hollywood heavyweights, shot on location, and adapted from what is supposedly a fantastic book, you’d be forgiven for assuming you’re about to sit down and enjoy a delicious cinematic experience. But sadly, this movie is one of the dullest and most underutilised productions to come out of mainstream cinema in years.

The underlying theme of the film is fate, and whether we are bound to our fate by choice or by the will of God. The interwoven story of five individuals comes to halt when they are caught on the bridge of San Luis Rey as it breaks and they plummet to their deaths. It could be a deeply thought-provoking, philosophical and poetic masterpiece, especially given its A-list cast, but unfortunately, no one can save this film from an unspeakable boredom that plagues the viewer from approximately 2 minutes (give or take) after the opening credits onwards.

Robert DeNiro is absurdly cast as the Archbishop of Peru - he sounds like a New York gangster giving a eulogy at the funeral of his partner in crime, and seems desperately out of place. I kept thinking this film was set in Brooklyn when he was in the scene, and had to keep reminding myself that it was eighteenth century Peru.
Gabriel Byne isn’t allowed his space to be the quality actor that he is; his voice-over narration doesn’t quite hit the dramatic tone that some of the monologue - in its attempts at pithy wisdom and sagacious insights into the human condition - is striving for. And simply, his hair just renders him ridiculous - it’s one of the few items that the costume and make-up team got drastically wrong.

Kathy Bates, as The Marquesa, is an annoying character but is brought to life convincingly well by Bates. But with music in every scene, the talents of her acting (as with all the other actors) are washed over in what seems like a cheap TV drama production, where the creators misconstrue background music as a ‘dramatic enhancer’, instead of the non-diegetic nonsense that it becomes when overused.

Uncle Pio, the theatre boffin and sometime eccentric, is an endearing character, and Harvey Keitel does a great job in bringing him to life, but it is F. Murray Abraham as the Viceroy of Peru who gives the most convincing performance, with an honourable mention to Geraldine Chaplin as The Abbess, an amiable woman whose eyes are as dramatic as they are emotional.

The greatest thing about this film is the costuming and set design. It is very often a beautiful film to watch, and your senses are sometimes overcome with a silly romantic longing to be eighteenth century Peru. The costumes are elaborate and colourful, and it’s clear no expense has been spared in this area. Indeed, I’d be inclined to go so far as to claim that his film would be more enjoyable as a collage of images, shown with a silent soundtrack.

DVD Extras

There is a behind the scenes movie which is literally a camera flitting in and out of scenes and filming things that occur on set. There are no interviews or even direct dialogue towards this camera; it just gives you a peak of what life is like on the set of a major movie production, and it is quite enjoyable to watch.

There are also interviews with most cast members and the director, Mary McGuikian, and in these, the actors give their own spiel about how why the film attracted them and what their character meant to them.