One glance at the cast assembled for The Bridge of San Luis Rey, this being the third filmed adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (the other two were in 1944 and 1929), and you think, "Wow, it'd take a lot to screw up with actors this distinguished." Robert De Niro, Kathy Bates, Harvey Keitel, Gabriel Byrne, F. Murray Abraham, Geraldine Chaplin, Dominique Pinon, Samuel Le Bihan and the Polish brothers (who've helmed Northfork and Twin Falls Idaho, among others)?
Writer/director Mary McGluckin, an Irish playwright making her feature film debut, doesn't so much waste the cast as saddle them with starchy period dialogue and mounds of era-appropriate duds. De Niro looks particularly uncomfortable in his archbishop get-up; it's hard to take the film seriously because you keep flashing back to Mel Brooks and Monty Python.
Set in Peru during the 18th century, five strangers on separate journeys meet at the titular bridge, crossing by chance at the exact same moment on July 20, 1714. The bridge tragically collapses, plummeting the five strangers to their deaths in the perilously deep gorge below. After they're buried, Brother Jupiter (Byrne) sets out to determine the connections between the five who died in the catastrophe. Presided over by the Archbishop of Lima (De Niro), Jupiter works to establish a theory as to how these five arrived on the bridge at the same time, as well as unravel the mystery of why the bridge collapsed.
Fate, free will, mystery and romance – The Bridge of San Luis Rey is certainly thematically loaded with more than enough to sustain a feature film; McGluckin, however, seems more preoccupied with nailing period detail and crafting beautiful (but torpid) images than juicing the story with any sense of urgency. There's a dull inevitability to Jupiter's search, which leaves much of the cast seeming either listless or wildly over-the-top (I'm looking at you, Kathy Bates). The Bridge of San Luis Rey might appeal to costume drama enthusiasts, but don't be suckered in with the promise of that cast.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey is presented in a superb 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does luminous justice to Javier Aguirresarobe's sumptuous cinematography. The period costumes and lavish locations suggest that every penny of the film's budget is up onscreen; there's scant evidence of defect. A great image.
DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo are the aural flavors available – the DTS track is slightly more spacious and realistic than the Dolby Digital, but either selection is robust and clear, with no distortion or drop-out. For a goosebump-inducing example of DTS' clarity, check out the funeral scene around the two-minute mark, when the organs kick in.
There's very little in the way of supplemental material: the theatrical trailer for The Bridge of San Luis Rey as well as trailers for The Sea Inside, The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and The Agronomist, all offered in anamorphic widescreen.
Admirable in its aims, The Bridge of San Luis Rey marks the third adaptation of Thornton Wilder's prize-winning novel. It's a costume drama that's lavishly produced but dramatically inert – those with powdered wig fetishes might find something of value here. Rent it.