'Bridge of San Luis Rey': Not Worth Crossing 

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 9, 2005

I was immensely moved after reading Thornton Wilder's novel about the mystical connections among five characters who fall to their death from a bridge in Lima, Peru. But after watching this movie, which stars Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Bates and Gabriel Byrne, I was moved only to find my own bridge to leap from.

Even though director-adaptor Mary McGuckian expended much creative energy trying to pump original spirit into the characters, she never brings any of them to life. You listen to the characters and hear just what is supposed to be happening and how you are supposed to be moved. But the performances aren't persuasive.

The casting is another problem. You are constantly aware of the stars playing these parts. There's DeNiro trying not to sound like a GoodFella as he plays a Peruvian archbishop. The same problem happens with Keitel, who should be banned from playing any character from Another Time. And there's Byrne, looking unintentionally comical as he attempts to portray monklike humility with a Hendrix-size head of hair. Bates and F. Murray Abraham are the strongest players here. She's the wealthy marquesa, whose saintly, unrequited devotion to her snooty daughter is treated with ridicule in Peruvian society; and Abraham's the slightly vainglorious viceroy of Peru. But their efforts are ultimately pointless.

The rest of the cast, including the ill-fated Pepita (Adriana Dominguez), the mute brothers Manuel (Mark Polish) and Esteban (Michael Polish), and the Abbess (Geraldine Chaplin) come across as bit players with banal plot duties -- hardly the effect intended for a story like this. If this movie has any positive outcome, it'll be to jog fans of the book to reread it, or prompt new readers to experience its tragic intricacies.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (PG, 120 minutes) -- Contains some disturbing images and some sensuality . At Landmark's Bethesda Row.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company