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Robert De Niro,
In early 18th century Peru an old Inca rope bridge collapses, plunging five travelers to their deaths in the Andean chasm below. Brother Juniper, who was within minutes of being on the bridge himself, becomes obsessed with discovering how five people of differing class and circumstances came to be on the bridge at that moment. The Catholic friar wants to know if it was mere existential happenstance or part of God's cosmic plan. After researching the lives of the victims for five years and publishing his findings in a book, he is accused of heresy by the worldly Archbishop of Lima and is put on trial for his life by the Inquisition. Written by
Now here is potential for a great, intellectually stimulating movie. Based on the book by Thornton Wilder, a respected American novelist, and exploring the philosophical problem of evil - namely, why did God permit the demise of five people in the collapse of the Bridge of San Luis Rey? The priest investigating the question, the Archbishop accusing his research findings as heresy, the cast of characters with their human strengths and failings; all of this could have made the movie a really rewarding watch. Instead, I fell asleep about two-thirds of the way through, only to wake up just before the end for the credits! I can hardly believe it myself, because I was definitely intrigued by the central question, but for me it was a frustrating, incomprehensible viewing experience with only the scenery, costumes and famous cast as its redeeming features. My disadvantage as a critic is that I haven't read the book, so I can't say if Wilder had done a better job exploring this crucial human issue. Certainly the film was a disappointment. When you want to know the meaning of life, the last thing you wish to be shown is a group of gallivanting fools and hysterics with whom you are unable to engage. At times it really felt like a baroque farce of some sort. Maybe I just didn't get it, but surely much more can be made of the problem of evil on screen. Two out of ten for the costumes, but I'm thinking of reading the book just to avoid nurturing the impression I was left with: that Thornton Wilder lacked substance.
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