Any stir caused by this stilted historical melodrama is more likely to be over its controversial real-life protagonist than its cinematic merits, such as they are. There Be Dragons compresses, embellishes, and probably whitewashes true events in its depiction of how Catholic priest Josemaría Escrivá (Charlie Cox) founded Opus Dei in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. Writer/director Roland Joffé divides this narrative among three intersecting character threads: Escrivá's travails under the anticlericalism of the Republicans, who ultimately force him to flee Madrid; the machinations of his (fictional) childhood friend, Manolo (Wes Bentley, wooden as ever), a spoiled Nationalist sympathizer who infiltrates a loyalist cell and bags himself a leftist babe (Olga Kurylenko); and, in the present day, Manolo's grown son, a writer whose research into Escrivá's death uncovers Dad's deceit. Opus Dei's affiliation with the subsequent Franco regime and Escrivá's support of Franco himself are swept aside here, so haters are advised to dig up their Da Vinci Code DVDs and pass on Dragons. Its appeal for the rest of us is buoyed by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain's attentiveness to the ravishing Argentine locations, but the geriatric pacing, flat-footed Old Hollywood pastiche, and Joffé's inexplicable penchant for tear-jerking Catholic mysticism make Dragons more punishing than a hundred Hail Marys.
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