There be no dragons in There Be Dragons. Really, this historical drama is about a future Roman Catholic saint and his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. Alas, there also be no Spanish-speakers in the tale, with writer-director Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields) instead relying on English-speaking actors such as Wes Bentley, who narrates with a my-name-is-Inigo-Montoya accent. (“The Communist strike killed my father,” his character says cartoonishly. “Now it was my time to strike!”)
But let’s back up: The film begins with a writer named Robert (Dougray Scott) researching a book about canonization candidate Josemaría Escrivá (Charlie Cox), a project that takes him to Madrid, home to his estranged, elderly father, Manolo (Bentley, buried in terrible prosthetics). As a kid, Dad was BFF with Josemaría, and he opens up about their childhood together, as well as what led them to take opposite sides during the war. So the film mostly ditches the present (here, 1982) and spends the majority of its time in the ’30s, following Josemaría’s call to the church and Manolo’s development into a bitter young soldier.
Rarely has a film with so much melodrama been so unengaging. Bentley’s accent isn’t his only weakness; he’s largely pouty and, worse, uninteresting, while Cox’s Josemaría is a bland do-gooder who seems more naïve pushover than eventual saint. Robert, meanwhile, shows up only sporadically, usually when the story needs a bit of clunky exposition. (“You are making progress,” his girlfriend says about his relationship with his father.) And it’s all doused in a score of cliched strings, which swells not only in moments of high drama but, well, just about all the time. There’s a Big Reveal near the film’s end, but by then—as the accents get hammier, the score even swellier, and the prosthetics way past being ready for their close-up—you’re so distracted by Joffé’s poor choices that you just might miss it. Some fire-breathers might have helped.