Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Man from Rome, Based on the Arturo Perez-Reverte Novel

Cardinal Joseph Zen could use the unique sort of help Father Lorenzo Quart provides, but unfortunately, the current Pope let him stand trial on bogus “national security” charges without a single word of protest. Sadly, the Church has lost its moral authority under Francis. While Quart often feels morally conflicted, he always maintains the righteous path. That is not easy to do when you serve as the Vatican’s armed troubleshooter. His latest case is a political minefield. As one might anticipate, the intrigue soon leads to danger in Sergio Dow’s The Man from Rome, adapted from Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novel The Seville Communion, which releases this Friday on-demand and in theaters.

Two dead bodies have been found in the wealthy Bruner’s family’s traditional church. Perhaps they were accidents, but a mysterious hacker brought it to the Pope’s personal attention by hacking his laptop. The Seville diocese wants to sell the property to a dodgy developer, but Macarena Bruner is trying to exercise her contested rights to block the sale, as ambiguously negotiated when her family donated the land to the Church centuries ago. She also happens to be trying to divorce the developer in question. There are a lot of old grudges in play, including the Cardinal of Seville, whose reputation was tarnished during one of Quart’s previous investigations into Church mismanagement.

Quart’s inquiry will be fair and unbiased, but his values and personality are clearly much more compatible with those the future Duquesa Bruner, and her sly mother, the current Duquesa. However, there will be no monkey business, because Quart is serious about his vows, despite his frequent differences with Vatican policies. The truth is Quart was much more conflicted in Perez-Reverte’s novel. Readers might remember a telling passage in which Quart debates whether to wear a tie to meet Bruner at a fancy restaurant, but reverts back to his collar at the last minute. That kind of ambivalence regarding his calling is missing from Dow’s film.

Man from Rome is still one of the better Perez-Reverte adaptations. Roman Polanski swung for the fences and struck out when he adapted The Club Dumas as The Ninth Gate. Dow and his battery of contributing writers stripped down the source novel to a lean procedural (maybe too lean) and they maintain the deliciously ironic final revelation. Frankly, most viewers will not see it coming, because of their junk-culture conditioning.

Of course, it is always entertaining to see a badass priest and Richard Armitage’s amazingly straight posture makes him pretty convincing in the role. He also has nice unromantic chemistry with Amala Salamanca, portraying Bruner. Paul Guilfoyle (from the original
CSI) is amusingly crusty as Monsignor Paolo Spada. Unfortunately, Franco Nero hardly gets any screen time as the Pope. However, the film really lacks a colorful villain (the book had a trio that might be a little too colorful to translate to the screen).

Man from Rome
definitely has more insight into Church politics than Angels & Demons, but that is not saying too much. It delivers some lovely scenery and a hero who is the sort of manly, principled role model the Church needs. This is a film to stream later rather than see as a ticket-buying theater patron, but it is smarter than the average VOD release. Manage your expectations accordingly when The Man from Rome opens Friday (6/30) at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in LA.